Even in the latter years of his career with only 70 minutes and one singular setting, Ingmar Bergman can still create an insightful and eloquent picture which stands up to his mighty work. With touches of autobiographical reflection that analyses Bergman’s life and relationships after his formal retirement, much like Roger Ebert expounded, you get an overwhelming sense that the great director feels retrospective guilt and uses the actions of these characters to atone for his past use of intellect and reputation to manipulate and overpower actresses. It’s tender yet alarming commentary which proves to be unconventionally gripping.
Bergman explores the associations that frequently develop in theatre and film with a particularly fascinating look at the difference in passionate evocation between emerging actress Anna (Lena Olin) and aging director Henrik (Erland Josephson) in between rehearsals of Strindberg’s A Dream Play. This fluently travels through a narrative of elegant time travel as the young actress becomes an impartially silent observer to the argument of her actress mother (Ingrid Thulin) and Henrik many years ago, which she likens to the arguments of her parents influencing her to act.
Bergman never blatantly states what’s happening on that stage with a ticklish ambiguous reality, but this multi-generational exposé on Bergman’s difficulty in managing professional and personal life in his career becomes riveting. In its concluding moments you notice a certain influence on Abbas Kiarostami‘s 2010 film Certified Copy, as Henrik and Anna take on characters (or fictionalised versions of themselves) as they walk through how their life would be if they began a relationship. This combines with the inner-monologue devise used throughout to illustrate how we perform for others and act certain untruthful ways to get by in life.
Harnessed by a delicate Bergman touch, these are profound thoughts that penetrate your psyche from revealing close-up examinations. Yet its second strand feels somewhat false at times – an almost overt devise for Bergman to have a definitive exploration of a variety of acting theories, techniques and motivations expressed by the likes of Stella Adler, Stanislavski, Lee Strasberg, Uta Hagen and Michael Chekhov. As an acting graduate it’s fascinating to observe considerations into why one gets into the business of suspending disbelief, but with such unrelenting drama without a lot of intended emotional connection for the viewer, it’s strictly an overwritten intellectual and philosophical film. As characters shift emotions sharply while speaking dialogue as if verbatim from a textbook, Bergman doesn’t quite manage to thread his grand aspirations into a fully poetic form within the 70 minute remit.