10 April 2008

WINTER LIGHT (Dir. Ingmar Bergman, 1961, Sweden) - The Everlasting Question of Faith

My discovery of the extensive body of cinema produced by Ingmar Bergman has been a gradual process and the recent DVD release of Bergman classics like 'Winter Light' has made me realise how socially progressive Bergman was as a film maker. Winter Light is a meditation on faith and the role of religion in a secular society, and Bergman explores these themes through the figure of a lonely, self destructive and deeply troubled Priest, Tomas Ericsson (Björnstrand), pastor of a rural Swedish church. What is quietly extraordinary about Winter Light is how ahead of it's time it was when it was released at the beginning of the 60s, and even today, when religion is making a resurgence within western society, Bergman's understated study of faith is somberly expressed through a sparse mise en scene that directs it's collective anger against questioning the existence of God. Winter Light reveals the brilliance of Bergman as a writer and also his handling of actors, drawing vivid and theatrical performances, positions him within a unique category amongst the great film makers of the 20th century. Though Winter Light is Bergman's most overtly religious films he directed, it is a film which is largely driven by dialogue and at times the film takes on board the claustraphobic and static dimensions of a play. The Criterion Collection DVD release of this film is an exceptional piece of work with a pristine transfer that is a real tribute to the stoic cinematography of Sven Nykvist. A minor work in the filmography of Ingmar Bergman but a major work in terms of Swedish and World Cinema.

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