974 (116.) En passion / The Passion of Anna / A Passion (1969, Ingmar Bergman)

Screeened June 21 2009 on MGM DVD in Brooklyn, NY TSPDT rank # IMDb Wiki

Ingmar Bergman stumbles out of the '60s, his most creatively expansive and emotionally exhausting period, with one final attempt to channel New Wave stylistic vitality into his foursquare obsessions with individual angst. As with the other entries in his "Island Trilogy" (including Shame and Hour of the Wolf), it's fractured, dissonant and despairing. The sensual glow of Sven Nykvist's cinematography (in their first color film) blazes into a vision of apocalypse, rife with animal slaughter, tortured fornication and a marriage verging on homicide.

Max Von Sydow plays an unassuming island yokel who's emotionally corrupted by three Bergman regulars: his neurotic wife (Liv Ullmann), a neurotic adulteress (Bibi Andersson), and a controlling patriarch (Erland Josephsson). Von Sydow's slide into a flailing rage at modernity is mirrored by Bergman's slapdash employment of self-conscious techniques: interviews with the cast about their roles, voiceover narration by the director, a dream sequence explicitly referencing Shame. The interviews are especially unsatisfying, suggesting a dynamic interrogation of the space between actor and performance that's left largely unexplored.

The film is most successful in its project of mining for the ugly truth when it's simplest: two extended, soul-baring monologues by Ullmann and Andersson that stare down the camera. These moments complicate Bergman's characteristic misogyny, daring the viewer to call out these naked displays of emotion as so much female wiliness. They also point to the maturity of the more modest, person-to-person realism awaiting Bergman following his late 60s creative burnout.

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The following citations were counted towards the placement of The Passion of Anna among the 1000 Greatest Films according to They Shoot Pictures, Don't They?

Antonio Castro, Dirigido Por (1992) Peter Harcourt, Sight & Sound (1982) Robin Wood, The Manitoban (2008) ? New York Times, The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made (2004) ? Take One, Best European Films of the 'Decade' 1966-77 (1978)

The Passion of Anna is one of Bergman's most beautiful films (it is his second in color), all tawny, wintry grays and browns, deep blacks, and dark greens, highlighted occasionally by splashes of red, sometimes blood. It is also, on the surface, one of his most lucid, if a film that tries to dramatize spiritual exhaustion can be ever said to be really lucid. However, like all of Bergman's recent films, it does seem designed more for the indefatigable Bergman cryptologists (of which I am not one) than for interested, but uncommitted filmgoers...

There is no confusion in The Passion of Anna between reality and fantasy—it is all fantasy. That, at least, is the effect of a device by which, at four points in the film, he steps back and asks each of his principal actors about his conception of the role he is playing. The result is not so much enlightenment as it is an expression of Bergman's appreciation to his stars, particularly von Sydow, Miss Ullmann, and Miss Andersson, who have contributed so much to so many of his films.

They are all superb here, and Bergman gives each of them extraordinary moments of cinematic truth, monologues of sustained richness and drama that are the hallmarks of Bergman's best work, when the camera, without moving, records the birth of a character largely through facial expression and dialogue.

- Vincent Canby, The New York Times

All Bergman's films in the late '60s centre on isolated social groups (often the partners of a marriage) and show them under attack from both inside and out: Laingian fissures and cracks open up between the characters, and their precarious security is challenged by irruptions from the outside world. Bergman preserves and extends his private mythologies (witness the way that images and names recur from film to film), but in a broader (less precious, more honest) context. Liv Ullmann says it all in The Shame when she dreams of 'living in the truth'. Here, another bold step forward in Bergman's analysis of human isolation, the public and private manias of Hour of the Wolf are brought down to earth among middle class intruders in an island community.
Tony Rayns, Time Out

"Ingmar Bergman's film about the impossibility of purity and consistency in a world where to live is to contradict yourself. The passion of the title is not sexual, but the ability to live with the contradictions of life and to bear them without resignation. A tentative, plotless film that pulses with the rhythms of life rather than the rhythms of drama.

Don Druker, Chicago Reader

Ingmar Bergman’s 1969 drama En Passion / A Passion (in the U.S., mistitled as The Passion of Anna) is a great film — in fact, it may be the best of Bergman’s mid-to-late-1960s efforts dealing with human relationships and the Self — e.g., Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Shame.

Of the three films that show von Sydow and Ullmann as lovers — Hour of the Wolf and Shame are the other two — the portrayal found in A Passion is the most realistic and multi-faceted. Cinematographer Sven Nykvist makes a smooth transition from black-and-white to color, and some of the symbolism early in the film, such as a sundog that fades to clouds, is superb. Such a shot would be impossible to distill so powerfully in black and white. Von Sydow also looks better in color, as his features smooth out, making him look younger.

- Dan Schneider, Alternative Film Guide

The Passion of Anna is one of the difficult Bergman psychodramas of the sixties, and while it is not the best Bergman film of this period it nevertheless has many things in its favour – an intelligent script, impeccable acting and Sven Nykvist’s beautiful colour photography. The characters are complex and can be interpreted in any number of ways depending on the individual viewer, but the film’s argument isn’t that difficult to follow – while the characters themselves are somewhat fragmented, the storyline itself, at least on the surface, is fairly linear.

The film’s apparent linear narrative actually conceals a circular pattern, each of the characters displaying a propensity for recurring patterns of behaviour and playing-out roles that they have previously enacted with their previous partners. Anna’s previous husband Andreas and Max von Sydow’s character, tellingly with the same name Andreas, both have had an affair with Eva which seems to have been conducted and ended in similar circumstances. The story of Anna’s break-up with her husband also resembles the story of Andreas’ estrangement from his wife. Bergman appears to be examining the recidivist nature of people to fall back into familiar patterns of behaviour, but he also blurs the lines between what actually happened and what people believe happened, how they interpret events for themselves according to their experience and memories of past events. This gives the film a confused, dream-like quality where we are never quite sure whether something is actually happening or is being forced to fit a predetermined sequence of events based on the perceptions or delusions of the damaged minds of the characters in this isolated community. The strange unresolved subplot of the killer and the islanders’ search for someone to blame could be an external representation of madness that reflects the suppressed madness of one or all of the characters, but it is difficult to interpret.

What makes this somewhat less confusing and particularly enjoyable to watch is the attention to detail and the sheer emotional force that each of the characters brings to their role. All of the actors at this stage have long been part of the Bergman’s company and very familiar with working together on this type of material, but they bring a particular intensity to this film which often frames them in close-up, capturing every flicker of emotion and passion. Sven Nykvist’s photography is in this respect simply marvellous – somewhat looser than the fixed, studied head poses of earlier films, the film also benefits from the warm colours that bathe the characters and landscapes in orange glows and is able to draw the full visceral effect from an image of blood on snow. It all contributes to the unspoken language that gives this film particular force despite the ambiguities and confusions inherent within the story.

- Noel Megahey, DVD Times

The Passion of Anna has not dated as well as some other films of this period and compared to Shame or Hour of the Wolf it seems laboured and predictable. The use of then fashionable post-modern devices doesn’t really work either. The film contains interviews with the actors about their views on the characters they’re playing, snippets which tend to achieve little other than make you reflect on how much younger Max Von Sydow looks without his beard. There’s also a narration from Bergman which doesn’t help much either – although the final line of this is probably pivotal to understanding his conception of the world as a place where we, no matter how hard we try, we can’t hide from ourselves. Overall, however, it is a powerful and disturbing film which contains scenes that resonate in the mind even though you’re not always sure why – Elis’ collection of photographs of violent acts by people, the love scene in silhouette, the blood of the animals against the mud of Faro’s winter. It also reminds us that we are all prisoners of our pasts, a theme which recurs at the very centre of his next major film, Cries and Whispers.

- Mike Sutton, DVD Times

Although this movie is identified as En Passion, the card in the title position on the film itself simply reads L 182. There's no other title given on the DVD. I found no explanation of this in the docu, the commentary or on the IMDB. Oddness or inconsistencies in a Bergman film always feel like misreads ... it comes from being intimidated by world-renowned, serious art filmmakers, so I'm assuming that there's a story behind this that I've yet to catch up with. 1 In the context of the film, "L 182" would seem to correspond to the neat boxes of photos that the Erland Josephson character stores in the creative office in his windmill. The thousands of filed images corresponding to specific subject matter - happiness, violence - seem to either be Bergman's criticism of the 'organized' mind, or the unconscious repository for the feelings of man who shows no feelings ... sort of a variation on the hidden rooms with terrible secrets in the house belonging to Peeping Tom.

The Passion of Anna is more accessible, less frustrating and less mysterious than some of Bergman's previous studies in psychological opacity. In bringing his inner concerns to the surface, Bergman uses readily-interpretable symbols and situations. The characters spend less time gazing at the camera in blank-faced introspection and there are fewer indigestible unknown factors. The film is also photographed in color, something we didn't expect from the Swedish master of stark, ascetic grays.

Anna is definitely a visual departure for Bergman. The interesting color is often warm and mellow, radiantly so in Bibi Andersson's big scene with Max's old swing record. The hues are intense without being exaggerated, like old Kodachrome home movies. I am told that original prints used grain interestingly; it's less visible here except in the final scene. Perhaps the grain was only on duped American prints.

Bergman's thematic use of color is actually rather commonplace - the color red bounces between fire trucks and flames, signaling alarm and panic in the Anna Fromm character. At one point, Ullman's red scarf is used to mirror the pools of crimson blood from the throats of slaughtered sheep.

Bergman's dream sequences are vivid - one with Ullmann in a boat resembles a situation in Shame and could almost be an unused sequence from it. Bergman cuts away to format-disrupting false interviews for all four main actors, a gambit that isn't any more successful than it would be in anybody else's avant-garde film. He probably felt something was needed to break up the rather conventional drama. There's plenty of disturbing content here, but often conveyed with atypical technique for the Swedish master, including overlapping dissolves in the barn-burning scene. The film is more accessible and less mysterious - one doesn't necessarily have to read a film book or peruse a critic's exegesis to follow what's going on.

- Hal Erickson, DVD Talk

There is no perfect analogy for the relationship an actor has to the character, but the connectedness they have makes the ones’ commentary on the other a form of introspection. This is interesting for Andreas/von Sydow because his character is so wrapped up in himself. His perspective, the film’s perspective can best understand the character/actors by how they understand themselves.

This representation makes the film dynamic. It brings the meta-narration that Bergman was hashing out in Hour of the Wolf and Persona to the forefront, and involves it directly in the plot and character of the film.

- Nicholas Michael Grant, Suite 101

Although not one of Bergman's most popular efforts, The Passion of Anna is a complicated work from an undeniable genius. It's execution is at times muddled and confused, certain turns in the plot end up feeling unnatural and forced, yet this only adds to the disjointed knowledge that we are, in fact, watching a constructed story. At several points in the story the plot evaporates and the actors speak to us about their characters. This device works wonders for the female cast members who have improvised their statements, adding insight to their characters' development and future, yet the males read speeches prepared for them by Bergman, and in doing so they falsify their interviews. These abstract moments do distract from the functional use of the film as entertainment, making it a flawed yet effective work of artistic experimentation.

- Joshua, Octopus Cinema

Shot in color, The Passion of Anna (1969) takes place -- like its predecessors Hour of the Wolf and Shame -- on a remote island, where Andreas (Max Von Sydow) lives a solitary existence, until widowed Anna (Liv Ullmann) comes along. She tries to convince herself that she had a happy marriage, but Andreas knows differently. When Anna accidentally leaves her purse behind, Andreas reads a letter from her husband attempting to end the marriage. Nevertheless, Anna moves in with him and the cycle repeats. Bibi Andersson adds another layer as a confused married woman who has a brief fling with Andreas. Strangely, Bergman occasionally cuts away from the action with on-camera interviews of the actors explaining their characters' motivations. I generally prefer Bergman's black-and-white films, but Sven Nykvist's color cinematography makes Ullmann's blue eyes a thing to behold.

- Jeffrey M. Anderson, Combustible Celluloid

Colors are the most notable change in the first of Bergman's films to escape the realm of black and white. What a difference a few hues make! In the beginning you are introduced to Andreas Winkleman, (played by the wonderful Max von Sydow). He is a forty something year old man who is living alone on a slightly inhabited Swedish island. We watch as he applies stone tiles to the roof of his humble abode during the hazy, snowy days of winter. Silence seems to pervade the area with only a few sheep clopping around the hilly snow banks in the distance. It's here in the film that the viewer gets a look at an amazing cinematic shot of the horizon. But suddenly, the orange sky becomes darkened by a mass of clouds and the bright sun changes into a dull gray sphere. A telltale sign of things to come?

I can definitely respect this film's honesty. Yet, the constant subtle sadness never lifts and I felt a bit weighed down by it's empty outlook. Also, the characters have already lived through all their hardest times and trials before the film begins so as a viewer you feel as though you missed out on all the main reasons underneath their sorrow. Never in Bergman's career has he created a film with characters so heartbreakingly devoid of hope. The four seem to know that the sun will never shine brightly for them and even more, they cannot push away the dark clouds from their view. Anna Fromm has a passion, but it's only held together with old happier memories that serve to keep her spirit from dying.

- Dr. Isaakson, eFilmCritic.com

There's two ways “The Passion Of Anna” (released in Sweden under the less exclusionist title, “Passion”) can be viewed: in the eyes of Bergmanites, it's a radical, triumphant work of deconstructionist cinema; or because of the real-life break-up between director Ingmar Bergman and star Liv Ullman, it's a therapeutic exercise, affected by major creative blocks.

Even co-star Erland Josephson admits in his interview segments for the DVD's documentary that some of Bergman's impulsive ideas harmed the final film, citing on-camera mock interviews with the four stars, edited into the film; tearing the viewer away from the drama, it's either a distraction, or a delightful twist in a film that's actually more challenging than “Persona.”

- Mark R. Hasan, KQEK

The Passion of Anna is another of Bergman's diegetic efforts, it is a film which draws attention to it's medium, a counterpart to his 1966 masterpiece, Persona. Although there are many similarities between these two psychodramas, there are also many through lines between The Passion and his film made the year before, Shame. Aside from the obvious similarities, namely the lead actors and the black and white footage of Liv Ullmann on a boat which Bergman pulled from Shame and inserted into The Passion of Anna, there are parallels in the depiction of the brutalization of more-or-less harmless citizens. With Shame, it is the horrors of war and the government's complicity in such horrors which visit upon them, while The Passion of Anna indicts society's blind thirst for justice and obscene love of "truth."

- Gotterdammerung

The passion here springs from the emotion over isolation and not being able to live in harmony in a community. It concerns four troubled souls living on a remote Swedish island. Ingmar Bergman's ("Through a Glass Darkly"/"The Shame"/"The Silence") second color film is stunningly filmed by master cinematographer Sven Nykvist on Faro island. This outstanding psychological drama is one of his better and more poignant films; it's never less than fascinating, even when it falters; it's well acted by his stock company and bears the filmmaker's usual unique stylistic expressions and high middlebrow symbolism. It's the final film in the "island" trilogy that includes Hour of the Wolf and Shame.

In what strikes me as something gimmicky and unnecessarily staged, during the film Bergman breaks from the action as he conducts “interviews” with his stars and pries from them their thoughts on the characters they play. The responses are revealing, but it seems to be an effort to force-feed us on how the characters were scripted and not allow us to determine for ourselves what the characters were all about.

- Dennis Schwartz, Ozu's World Movie Reviews

One of writer-director Ingmar Bergman’s most stirring and beautifully crafted films.

- Dennis Grunes

INGMAR BERGMAN ON THE PASSION OF ANNA

Quoted on Bergmanorama

"I'm sorry to say that those [interviews with the actors] are very unsuccessful. I just wanted to have a break in the film and to let the actors express themselves. Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann improvised their interviews, but Max von Sydow and Erland Josephson had no idea what to say, so they said what I told them to. This led to two different films, and I no longer understand why I left the whole batch in, because I always realized that they wouldn't work. But I like coups de theatre, things that make people wake up and rejoin the film. This time, however, it wasn't successful."– Ingmar Bergman (1971)

"The Passion of Anna could have been a good film, had the traces of the 1960s not been so evident. They leave an imprint, not only because of the skirts and hairdos, but, even more essentially, because of the important formal elements: the interviews with the actors and the improvised dinner invitation. The interviews should have been cut out. The dinner party should have been vastly different, much tighter. It is regrettable that I frequently became so worriedly didactic. But I was scared. You are scared when you have, for a long time, been sawing off the branch upon which you sit. Shame was truly not a success. I worked under the pressure of a firm demand that my film be comprehensible. I could possibly defend myself by saying that, in spite of this, it took all my courage to give The Passion of Anna its final shape."

– Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life in Film

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

During a seminar at the American Film Institute in 1973, Liv Ullmann (who played Anna) recalled working with Bergman and how he experimented in this film by allowing the actors to deviate from the script. "He has always been very strict in wanting us to keep to his sentences. There was the dinner party in The Passion of Anna where the four tell their own story. In that scene, we had complete freedom. But we had to stick to the character. One day a lady arrived and made a beautiful dinner. Max von Sydow drank red wine and all of us asked him questions. He had to answer as the character and the camera was on him all the time. Bergman did the same thing with all four of us. Then he edited it. Bergman further experimented by interviewing the actors during the film, The characters sort of came out and spoke as the character. [A]fter the picture was finished he asked us to come to the studio and to speak as actors. Bibi Andersson used the text from her character."

According to Peter Cowie in his book, Ingmar Bergman: A Critical Biography, shooting the film (from September to December 1968) was full of difficulties. Max von Sydow was under pressure also, for he was appearing at the Royal Dramatic Theater for two performances each weekend during the forty-five day production schedule and had to commute by boat during the late fall season. Sven Nykvist [Bergman's cinematographer] and Bergman frustrated each other; Bergman felt a recurrence of his old stomach ulcer and Nykvist suffered dizzy spells. In the final stages even the editing proved difficult, and over eleven thousand feet were left on the cutting room floor. [..] Conditions for the crew were similar [at the studio] to those on any location. They worked from 7:30 AM to 5 PM except for Monday, and in their free time they could play ping-pong, bathe in the icy sea, drink wine and eat cheese, and amuse themselves at the holiday campsite of Sudersand, when it was open.

- Lorraine LoBianco, Turner Classic Movies

DEEPER READINGS

If the challenge of color inspired innovation, the film's temper and issues continue to form part of the common denominator which subtends 'sixties Bermgan. The filmmaker himself has remarked that A Passion follows "a line of development" stretching from Through a Glass Darkly, and it is clearly the terminus for that segment of the line, beginning with Persona and passing through Shame, in which the island settings serve as metaphor for a besieged consciousness. Although any script Bergman might have written in 1968 would probably have shown a similarity, A Passion evolved directly from Shame; indeed, he looked upon it as virtually a sequel.

A Passion is a product of [Bergman's] dream machinery - and after a quarter century of filmmaking, Bergman had cause to wonder whether he really controlled its levers or the machine controlled him. It is not only Andreas who is sucked into reproducing a preexisting patern. When Bergman was asked to explain his pronouncement at the very end of hte film, he replied, "It means a sort of giving up... You must feel behind the [ostensible] meaning another you cannot define. For me, it expresses a feeling of boredom. I mean, 'This time his name is Andreas'; but I will be back and next time my character will have another name. I don't know what it will be, but this boring character will be back.

Frank Gado, The Passion of Ingmar Bergman. Duke University Press, 1986. Pages 377, 390

The Passion of Anna is an amazing movie, in some ways pursuing the quest for a new, open film form beyond even the experimentations of Persona. The hard-edged, precise brilliance of the former gives way to a loose, freewheeling, almost haphazardly structured film text breathing the indeterminate and the elusive, in a world still dominated by the experience of nothingness.

Bergman... is sharing the "text-in-process-of-becoming" with us. The actors seem to be sharing in creating the plot and the character: there are possibilities, probabilities; this could happen or that. Here is a kind of cinema of virtualities, showing us various potentialities, and in that, reflecting the filmmaking process. Alain Resnais was doing something of the sort in a number of his films (especially Providence later one), but with an aggressive and overt brilliance. In The Passion of Anna we have a leisurely and "open text," deliberately "imperfect," "unfinished," much as Eco was suggesting in The Open Work. Without the showy super-intellectualism and super-craftsmanship that exploded in Persona, Bergman has found a way of directly addressing his audience, as it were, sharing with us the awareness of what the nature of film, this film, really is. The final image may be of the actual visual disintegration of the central character, commented on by "author" Bergman; but we are very much aware that we are witnessing an artificial act of artistic legerdemain. Bergman makes us feel the nothingness, but also he makes us distance ourselves from it with the consciousness that it is an art object we are contemplating, and a highly complex one. Perhaps, because of the visible structuring of the film, we are prevented from taking the ending literally, at face value. For there are, after all, four factors in the equation, each with his or her possibilities. And so for life: we are watching Bergman work out some of the feasibilities. The context may still be grim, and nothing is clear; but here are four types of people reacting, each with his or her virtualities.

The Seventh Seal presented different kinds of fates for different individuals. But there one felt Bergman personally involved, working his way to some kind of affirmation and imposition of order. This would be pursued with growing clarity, as we have seen, in succeeding films. But with The Passion of Anna Bergman no longer feels the compulsion to be the prophet seeking the answer. For better or for worse, having faced the unbearable anguish of ingenting, he is now able to step back, seeing all options represented by the characters as data or possibilities (or maybe not!). Maybe ingenting itself is just that, one of the possibilities and maybe, braced by that conviction, one can surivive, can get on with one's life... Perhaps.

- Michael Gervais. Ingmar Bergman: Magician and Prophet. McGill-Queen's Press - MQUP, 1999. Pages 110, 111-113.

NOTES ON THE BERGMAN "ISLAND" TRILOGY: HOUR OF THE WOLF, SHAME AND THE PASSION OF ANNA

The Passion of Anna completes a loose trilogy of films in which director Ingmar Bergman examines how external factors can influence a person’s psychology and result in the break-up of a close male-female relationship.  It follows the expressionistic Hour of the Wolf (1968) and the wartime drama Shame (1968), with Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann playing the lead characters in all three films.  Each of the films continues Bergman’s exploration of existentialist themes – the nature of identity, the meaning of reality and the difficulty of living in a world filled with irreconcilable contradictions.

Stylistically, these three films could hardly be more different.  Whereas the first two are filmed in high-contrast black-and-white and have a grim claustrophobic intensity, The Passion of Anna is shot in colour and feels much looser, less confined, and far more naturalistic.  However, the similarities between the films are as striking as the differences and lead one to conjecture that they depict not three separate stories, but the same story, seen from three different perspectives.  One possible clue to the relationship between the films is in the inclusion in The Passion of Anna of a short sequence from Shame to represent part of a dream.   The hint is there that, perhaps, the whole of Shame is a dream, or maybe a twisted reinterpretation of the world as seen by Anna.

Mental derangement features heavily in all three films, and in each film Liv Ullmann plays a character who is either obviously unhinged or else looking as if she might be teetering on the brink of insanity. Assuming that Ulmann's character is the linchpin to each film, it is plausible that what the films are showing are a single mind that is fragmenting into various pseudo-realities – states that exist between reality and imagination.  For this character, reality as we know it (or rather, as we think we know it) has ceased to have any meaning.

A more evident connection between the films is the idea that an individual's identity can be strongly affected by external forces.  In Hour of the Wolf, it is the bleak, solitary landscape in which the story takes place which results in the mental collapse of the main protagonist. In Shame , the experience of war completely changes the way a husband and wife behave towards one another, ultimately ruining their relationship. In The Passion of Anna, it is the senseless killing of livestock by an unknown maniac that leads to the breakdown in trust and affection between Andreas and Anna.

- James Travers, Cinema Forever

ABOUT THE MGM DVD

The transfer is very good, with strong colors and accurate fleshtones. There's a lot of detail in the image, and the source print contains occasional speckles. For the most part, grain is not a problem, although it does pop up in the occasional darker scene.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

The mono sound is fine, with no trace of harshess or hiss. While limited in fidelity, it's perfectly serviceable, and the occasional sound effects come through clearly.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

While The Passion of Anna is probably the least interesting film in MGM's The Ingmar Bergman Collection boxed set, its supplements are the most insightful and revealing of the lot. Liv Ullman's 4m:05s interview is an amusing anecdote about her dachshund "Pet", and reveals the truth about the writing behind Bergman's films. In the 4m:53s allotted to Bibi Andersson, she comments on Bergman's dedication to his art, how the filmmaking climate in Sweden has changed and how it has affected her, and explains why it's not a good idea to invite Bergman to dinner. Erland Josephson speaks of his enduring friendship with Bergman in his brief (2m:25s) interview.

The Photo Gallery consists of the Swedish release poster and 17 production photos, which are duplicated from the Supplemental Materials disc. The U.S. theatrical trailer is in poor shape, with scratchy sound and a damaged source print, but the transfer is adequate.

University of Montreal film professor Marc Gervais contributes the commentary track, as he does for most of the films in the set. It's probably his least interesting talk, which is fair enough because there's simply less the say about this film than the others. He places it in the context of Bergman's other "disintegration" films from the 1960s, and discusses how the film reveals aspects of Bergman's character and personal life. The deconstructive elements of the film are analyzed, including the last shot of the film, where the image of Andreas is gradually obliterated, but this shot is almost certainly an optical effect and not a simple zoom as Gervais claims.

The documentary, Disintegration of Passion, is a bit shorter than the rest in the set, but follows the same format: clips from the film, interview snippets with the actors, comments by Gervais, and excerpts from a 1970 Bergman interview. Gervais mostly repeats observations from his commentary, but the remarks by the other actors provide insights into Bergman's unhappiness at the time, his hesitancies during filming, questionable use of improvisation, and indecision at including the interview segments in the film. If you can ignore the inclusion of the unrelated segments from the 1970 Bergman interview, this is a revealing, insightful documentary.

There's one supplement that breaks away from the formula used on the discs in this set: Elliott Gould reading the story treatment on which The Passion of Anna was based. Bergman typically writes out a detailed version of the story before shooting begins, then shares it with his cast and crew, who use it as a basis for their work. Over the course of more than an hour and a half, Gould reads the story, and it provides a fascinating glimpse into Bergman's working methods.

Extras Grade: A

- Robert Edwards, Digitally Obsessed

ABOUT INGMAR BERGMAN

IMDB Wiki

The following quotes are found on the TSPDT director profile for Ingmar Bergman:

"Bergman has never set out to be less than demanding; and as an artist his greatest achievement is in digesting such unrelenting seriousness until he sees no need to bludgeon us with it...Bergman has seen no reason to abandon his faith in a select audience, prepared and trained for a diligent intellectual and emotional involvement with cinema." -  David Thomson (The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 2002)

"Although he may be faulted for an occasional cold, humourless pessimism that may seem contrived, both his intellectual gravity and his uncompromising devotion to cinema as a serious art form are undeniable." - Geoff Andrew (The Film Handbook, 1989)

"Bergman's unique international status as a filmmaker would seem assured on many grounds; his prolific output of largely notable work; the profoundly personal nature of his best films since the 1950s; the innovative nature of his technique combined with its essential simplicity even when employing surrealistic and dream-like treatments; his creative sensitivity in relation to his players; and his extraordinary capacity to evoke distinguished acting from his regular interpreters." - Roger Manvell (International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 1991)

"Human laughter, sorrow, joy, and anxiety are analyzed and compellingly illustrated by Bergman, one of the great directors." - William R. Meyer (The Film Buff's Catalog, 1978)

"Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls." - Ingmar Bergman

"I write scripts to serve as skeletons awaiting the flesh and sinew of images." - Ingmar Bergman

ABOUT MAX VON SYDOW

IMDb Wiki

The Max Von Sydow Shrine

When you think of Scandinavian movie stars, the first name that comes to mind is Max von Sydow. Since his screen debut in 1949 in Alf Sjoberg's Only a Mother, he has appeared in countless films, including titles as diverse as Hannah and Her Sisters and Conan the Barbarian, The Emigrants and The Exorcist, Pelle the Conqueror and Judge Dredd. The actor is easily recognized by his gaunt appearance: he is tall, with a long, lean face and sharp features. These physical characteristics have been an asset in both aspects of his screen career, comprised of the character roles he has played in English-language films and his status as a principal on-screen interpreter of Ingmar Bergman.

Von Sydow has co-starred in a number of European productions by prominent directors, including Mauro Bolognini, Bertrand Tavernier, Jan Troell, and, most recently, Bille August. But it is his work with Bergman for which he will be best-remembered. He earned his initial international acclaim in Bergman-directed films, particularly The Seventh Seal (as the tormented knight who rides through the plague-ridden countryside in search of a good deed he might perform before the figure of Death takes him away) and The Virgin Spring (as the father who avenges the rape-murder of his young daughter). Indeed, in his best roles for Bergman (in which he has, more often than not, played husbands and artists), von Sydow has embodied the anguished soul who suffers as a result of his desires, or guilt, or the guilt he feels because of his desires.

—Rob Edelman, Film Reference.com

ABOUT LIV ULLMANN

IMDb Wiki

From the mid-1960s, Liv Ullmann represented to American audiences a sensual and sophisticated screen presence that did not exist within Hollywood. Her earthy beauty was best utilized in a series of provocative films directed by her mentor, Ingmar Bergman.

Her film credits were few and minor—she had appeared in several little-known Norwegian features—when Ullmann first met Bergman in Stockholm. He offered her the principal role of the mute Elisabeth Vogler in the psychologically complicated and exacting study Persona. There followed not only an artistic collaboration between the director and actress, but for a time, a deep personal and emotional relationship. Persona gave Ullmann a great acting opportunity, and was both an artistic and personal success for her. "It was difficult," says Ullmann. "I prepared myself so that I read the script several times and I tried to divide it into certain sections. Bergman helped me a lot. He differs very much from what the majority of people think of him. People say that he is a demon, but it is not true at all. He simply knows whom to engage. He listens and then he tries to get the maximum from an actor."

Under Bergman's influence, Ullmann became an internationally recognized actress. In the films Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Shame, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage, and Face to Face, she creates immensely complicated portraits of contemporary women. Able to communicate an entire range of emotions through minute details of action, she relies neither on sharp mimicry nor intensified vocal intonation in her portrayals. Nevertheless, she is capable of expressing urgency, sensitivity, and agitation by the slightest movement of her eyes. Ullmann interprets the feelings and inner actions of her heroines by suggestion. Although trained in the theater, her experience there is not evident, except perhaps in some long Bergmanesque dialogue passages in which, through her ardor, she is able to draw the audience into her own inner conflict. Ullmann's mastery of the dramatic consists precisely of the simplicity and realism of her expression.

Vacláv Merhaut, updated by Audrey E. Kupferberg, Film Reference.com

ABOUT BIBI ANDERSSON

IMDb Wiki

Like other European-trained actors, Andersson's work is not an emotionally cathartic experience, but rather an exercise of knowledge and technique, as her versatility proves. Following her role in The Seventh Seal, as the wife in the pair of fairground innocents who survive the destruction of the knight and his family after the apocalypse, she played the hitchhiker in Wild Strawberries, again projecting a youthful hopefulness and innocence. Her portrayal of the unmarried mother in Brink of Life revealed a broader range and won her an award at Cannes (along with Ingrid Thulin for the same film).

With the exception of a role in Now about All These Women, Andersson did not work with Bergman for six years. Their collaboration resumed with her most important film, Persona, in which she established herself as an actress of international stature. This masterpiece owes much to Andersson's brilliance and is evidence of her greater emotional experience than was apparent in her earlier work. Playing opposite Liv Ullmann as the mute Elisabeth, Andersson was required to carry the dialogue of the film. A mutual transference of personae occurs, signified by the merging of their images on screen. The film required of Andersson an enormous extension of her talent; her submission to the film's somewhat cruel objectivity attested to Andersson's dedication—not only to the aims of Bergman's films but also to the demands made by a role of extraordinary emotional complexity. The characterization did much to erase the rather condescending view of her as a pleasant, lightweight actress, and elevated her to the first rank of Bergman's ensemble, along with Thulin and Ullmann.

Andersson then made a number of films with other Swedish directors, and worked again with Bergman in a supporting part in The Passion of Anna, in a central role opposite Elliott Gould in The Touch, and in a brief appearance in one episode of Scenes from a Marriage, which would be the last films they made together. In The Touch she turned in a performance that established her, according to one critic, as the warmest and most free-spirited of Bergman's women, both robust and compassionate.

Charles L. P. Silet, updated by Kelly Otter, Film Reference.com

938. Gösta Berlings saga / The Saga of Gosta Berling (1924, Mauritz Stiller)

Screened November 2, 2008 on Kino DVD in South San Francisco, CA

TSPDT rank #916 IMDb Wiki

Intended as the ultimate triumph of what in retrospect was the golden era of Swedish silent cinema, this long and expensive costume drama based on a nationally celebrated novel by Nobel laureate Selma Ottiliana Lovisa Lagerlöf looks today like a prototypical prestige picture. The saga of a defrocked minister's romantic mishaps within an estate of sexual hypocrites feels antiquated anywhere outside of red state America. The innate sensationalism of the plot is dignified by impeccable production design and stifled by methodical pacing. It's most lasting value is Greta Garbo making her screen debut, and all the more fascinating in that the film presents "The Immortal" as a work-in-progress.

Those looking for Garbo at her youngest and most radiant may be disappointed to initially find a pudgy, shapeless presence hiding in a loose-fitting gown, the flesh above her jaws overtaking the famous cheekbones. But there are moments when the light catches Garbo's features in just the right way, bathing her hair in a halo, glinting off her carnivorous smile, finding an otherworldly glimmer in her eyes. Eyes that open into a dual vortex, threatening to pull the viewer into its stare. The first gaze in cinema that gazes back, taking the audience beyond the mere experience of on-screen story or spectacle to a realm of pure desire.

Want to go deeper?

The following citations were counted towards the placement of The Saga of Gosta Berling in the TSPDT 1000:

Alberto Cavalcanti, Cinematheque Belgique (1952) Charles Frend, Cinematheque Belgique (1952) Helmut Kautner, Cinematheque Belgique (1952) Jean-Loup Bourget, Positif (1991) Ove Brusendorff, Sight & Sound (1952) Bosley Crowther, The 50 Best Films of All-Time (1967) Daniel & Susan Cohen, Book - 500 Great Films (1987) Danny Peary, Guide for the Film Fanatic: Must-See Films  (1987)

Gösta Berlings Saga is regarded by many as Sweden's Gone With the Wind. With an epic sweep, episodic structure, and numerous characters, it evokes 19th-century Swedish life and is imbued with a lyricism and vibrancy which places its director Mauritz Stiller among the masters of silent film. The film represents both the pinnacle and the swan song of the "golden age" of Swedish cinema— 1913–24. With its plot centering on the search for redemption by Gösta Berling, the defrocked priest, and the several women who disastrously fall in love with him, it numbers, along with Griffith's Intolerance, among the earliest important films of social protest and one of the masterpieces of silent cinema.

Gösta Berlings Saga was a formidable undertaking which encompassed many characters and themes, required elaborate sets and costumes and resulted in a four-hour production shown in two parts on consecutive evenings. Stiller eventually conceded this impracticality and edited the film to 137 minutes. His editing, while judiciously shortening many scenes rather than eliminating them, nonetheless imposed a disjunction which ultimately mars the continuity. Despite this shortcoming, Gösta Berlings Saga remains a remarkable evocation of life among the Swedish aristocracy and mirrors its repression and hypocrisy. The first half of the film is devoted to exposition and the introduction of the many characters while the second half is highlighted by the dramatic fire in Ekeby Hall, a flight from wolves by sleigh across a frozen lake, and the brilliant acting of the venerable Gerda Lundequist-Dahlstrom as the shamed mistress of the manor.

Stiller's directorial technique was displayed through an expressive visual lyricism, an artistic use of light contrasted with shadowy darker hues and a picturesque depiction of the beauty and variety of the Swedish landscape. These elements are particularly evident in his photographing (with the masterful cinematographer Julius Jaenzon) of the then unknown Greta Garbo, who played Elizabeth. Stiller's scenes of Garbo picking flowers in the garden, carrying a lamp through the mansion hallways at night, and her first close-up in the sleigh scene capture the luminescence and radiance that made her the most unique female screen image of all time.

The success of Gösta Berlings Saga resulted in both Stiller and Garbo being hired by MGM in 1925. His three years in Hollywood destroyed Stiller and he returned to Sweden to die at the age of 45 in 1928. That same year Gösta Berlings Saga was released in the United States where a number of religious groups denounced it as "a glorified Elmer Gantry."

Lagerlöf disdained Stiller's interpretation of her novel, claiming he had seen "too many poor serials." For the most part Gösta Berlings Saga is remembered today as the film which introduced Garbo to the screen. However, it is a major work of the silent screen and as French critic Jean Beranger wrote: "If all but one Swedish silent film were to perish, this, probably, would be the one to save as the best witness of its period. All the charm, intelligence, profound human resonance and technical dexterity, here blend into an indissoluble bloc."

—Ronald Bowers, Film Reference.com

The Novel

Swedes hold Gösta Berlings saga in the highest regard; Selma Lagerlöf had been the first writer to break the spell of stern realism cast over Scandinavian literature in the nineteenth century and make her stories a vehicle for a return to romanticism. Gösta Berling , her first and possibly finest work, was a heroic tale that proceeded through folklore, feuds, and fires – gathering up in its rich and sprawling narrative a tale of Värmland, the untamed land on the western perimeter of Sweden, at the end of the Napoleonic era. Finding the right actor to play the troubled hero of Lagerlöf's novel would be something of a national obsession and could only be equated with the search for Scarlett O'Hara fifteen years later in America .

Production started

Production finally began in mid-August. The delays with the film had as much to do with securing Selma Lagerlöf's approval on the screenplay by Stiller and Ragnar Hyltén-Cavallius as from the complications of casting. After a series of talks between Stiller and Lagerlöf, the writer agreed to Svensk Filmindustri's production of Gösta Berling – but not before a thorough examination of the screenplay and a written promise from the director that he would remain faithful to the approved adaptation.

Principal photography on Gösta Berlings saga was scheduled for August through October of 1923, with a break in mid-October and November while the company awaited the season's first snowfall; the winter shoot would continue through the beginning of February. Forty-eight sets would be constructed. With a budget rumoured to be the largest in Svensk Filmindistri's brief history.

Stiller's Creation

For some time Stiller had dreamed of molding an actress into his feminine ideal. As filming continued, Stiller would note with pride that the young actress was solely his creation and Stiller took a jealous care of Greta. He scarcely permitted anyone else even to speak to her, and would hardly leave her out of his sight for a moment. The pair inevitably earned a nickname: “Beauty” and “the Beast.” Stiller was always teaching and preaching, Greta solemnly listening and learning. According to an observer, however, the film was a tortuous experience for Greta – she was nervous, restless, and “she cried a great deal.” Stiller was, in his own words, merciless with her, pushing her farther and farther along. He fussed over her costumes; he needled her about what she ate until she was inclined not to eat at all; he studied her makeup, her walk, her gestures.

One day, she actually broke down in front of the company and cursed him. It was a scene made all the more memorable because the usually mild-mannered actress wasn't known to lose her temper. “It was a love-hate affair,” Greta stated, “at times he loved me as much as I hated him.” He pushed her hard because he believed the results would be worth it.

Garbo

In October, during the film's hiatus, Stiller asked Greta to think about changing her name. It was not the first time she had considered it – in fact, many women during this period were adopting more distinctive surnames. Stiller had also pondered an appropriate name for her. Scenarist Arthur Nordén related that the director wanted a name that was “modern and elegant and international.” After a long search and many legends how the name was found, Anna Gustafson signed a petition, on November 9, asking the ministry to allow her daughter to legally change her name to Greta Garbo. The petition was formally approved by the Ministry of Justice on the twenty-first of December. By that time, Greta Garbo was back at work on Gösta Berlings saga.

The snow arrived in mid-December and the filming went on. It did not go unnoticed that Stiller had a proprietary interest in Greta. Their relationship would become to talk of the community as the director prepared his film for its March 1924 premiere. There were rumors of a romantic relationship. Some weeks later, filming was completed.

The Premiere

The final version of Gösta Berlings saga was nearly four hours (fourteen reels) long; Part I debuted on March 10, 1924, at the Röda Kvarn Theatre in Stockholm , Part II opened one week later. Stiller escorted his star to both premieres. Critical reaction in Sweden would be polite but restrained; the majority of reviews labeled the film “a beautifully staged failure.” While the director was complimented on his handling of the love scenes, critics still complained about the liberties he had taken in distilling Lagerlöf's epic down to a more manageable length; Selma Lagerlöf was also displeased. Stiller's discovery earned scattered praise in the Swedish press. One critic saw Garbo as “a promise for the future,” another as “ a semiplump and unseasoned bun.”

- From Garbo Forever.com

Stiller cast the 17-year-old Greta Garbo in The Atonement of Gösta Berling. Intended as the apotheosis of Swedish cinema up to that time, it became instead its swansong. The economic data alone demonstrate its failure: Erotikon had been bought by 45 territories outside Sweden, and yet in spite of a massive sales campaign, The Atonement of Gösta Berling found release in only 28 countries. The pace of this long, elaborate film was too slow by comparison with the French and American film that were now asserting their dominance over world markets. Garbo’s luminous beauty as the Italian girl who dotes on the handsome, defrocked parson, Gösta Berling, certainly distinguished many scenes. Elsewhere the film was handicapped by a lack of zest and narrative flexibility quite astonishing in a director of such energy as Stiller. The acting still looks theatrical, and scenes shot in the studios contrast embarrassingly with those out of doors (particularly in the long chase across the ice, as Lars Hanson and Greta Garbo, aboard a large sled, try to outpace a pack of pursuing wolves). Even the discovery of Garbo, usually credited to Stiller, belonged to Gustaf Molander. As head of the Royal Dramatic Theatre’s academy, he had selected her as one of the most talented of his pupils. Garbo’s first appearance on film, in a publicity short for fashion-wear, shows her as unrecognisably plump and exuberant. Stiller’s achievement was to isolate — and then magnify — the innate control and coolness of her expression.

- Peter Cowie, Scandinavian Cinema, London: The Tantivy Press, 1992.

Excerpt from interview conducted by TCM with Peter Cowie on the occasion of Kino's DVD release of The Saga of Gosta Berling:

TCM: It appears that many natural locations were used in GOSTA BERLING and not a heavy reliance on studio sets. Was this unusual for 1924?

Cowie: No, the greatest single achievement of Swedish silent film was to demonstrate how films could be shot on location, with a minimum of work being done in the studio. This, in turn, led to greater power for directors, who, far removed from the central office/studio, could shoot as they liked.

The Saga of Gosta Berling, Mauritz Stiller's epic adaptation of Selma Lagerlof's hugely popular novel, ran well over three hours when it was originally released in Sweden. Like Gone With the Wind, it was such a well-known book that Stiller felt the need to include most of its characters and incidents. In America, Gosta Berling has been seen in many shortened versions which have run from an hour to just under three hours, and this 184-minute Kino version is likely the longest and most complete print of Gosta Berling available, though it still feels disjointed. The film has long been overshadowed by the appearance of Stiller's protegee Greta Garbo in her first substantial role on screen. She turns up about 40 minutes into the film, disappears for most of the second hour, then steals the movie completely in the last 15 minutes. As an Italian Countess in love with Lars Hanson's sexy defrocked priest, Garbo is a bit tentative physically and seems scared when asked to interact with others, but she has several close-ups that stop the movie cold (she asked for champagne before her big scenes, and the resulting tipsiness in her eyes reads as voluptuous sensual abandon). In the movie's most famous sequence, a sleigh ride chase across icy tundra, Hanson and Garbo create a real erotic excitement based on the contrast between his assurance and her tingly, nervous submission. Aside from Garbo's scenes, Gosta Berling is basically just a long soap opera about despair, superstition, and redemption. Stiller's direction is only adequate most of the time, and there are a lot of mismatched eyelines and shots that feel off-balance and uncertain. Its theme of a hypocritical society dealing harshly with those who transgress against its rules is sketchy at best, so that a modern audience spends a lot of time just waiting for Garbo to reappear.

- Dan Callahan, Slant Magazine

About the Kino DVD

Image Transfer Review: The full frame picture is rather soft, and is lacking in clarity and detail. This could be a reflection of the state of the source materials, or it's possible that this is an older video transfer. In any event, whites in some sequences have a tendency to be blown out and greyscale is somewhat reduced. There is no PAL/NTSC ghosting, however, so that's positive. The source materials do appear to be in fine shape, with only the odd bit of dust or damage affecting it here and there. It's quite watchable, though not quite up to the standards of many recent silent film transfers.

Image Transfer Grade: B

Audio Transfer Review: Composer Matti Bye contributes a score for piano quintet (playing piano himself) that is an intriguing mix of folk-tinged material and 1920s era experimental sounds. It's an intriguing assemblage that works surprisingly well, given the subject matter. There's plenty of atmosphere to the recording, which has fine range and good bass extension. Harmonics on the violin come across quite well. There's a fair amount of surround activity, making it a quite immersive piece of accompaniment. Bye always keeps the onscreen action clearly in mind, on occasion using the small group to humorous effect to comment on the story.

Audio Transfer Grade: A- Extras Review: The same Stiller bio and filmography found on the DVDs of his Sir Arne's Treasure and Erotikon are repeated here. The same featurette on Stiller, narrated by Peter Cowie, found on those DVDs, reappears on this disc, with the option to play it together with a 5m:40s segment devoted specifically to Gosta Berling. It's quite solid, as one would expect from Cowie, though he does tend to spend more time talking about Garbo than the movie itself.

Garbo probably is the main attraction for most folks here, and there are several items that the Garbo devotee should cherish. The first is a 3m:55s set of 1920-21 advertising films starring a barely recognizable Garbo, which apparently constitutes her very first film footage. Second is a 9m:48s excerpt from Luffarpetter, which finds a slightly chubby but still recognizable Garbo (under the name Gustafsson) in bathing suit, frolicking with two other young women. If there's a plot, it's not discernable from this fragment; a short text summary of the story would have been most welcome. The final piece of film is newsreel footage from 1929, as Garbo, now a major Hollywood star, emotionally departs back to the United States. She's clearly not acting here, and the sense of loss and unhappiness is palpable during its short (1m:35s) running time.

Chaptering is a shade thin for such a long motion picture. This DVD is a rarity in that it uses dual layer technology, switching layers and moving the laser back to the center of the disc at the intermission, instead of utilizing the more standard RSDL method. As a result, a few more bits are available for the feature and the significant extras. But since it's at the intermission, the layer shift is hardly noticeable. Very thoughtfully done.

Extras Grade: B+

- Mark Hanson, Digitally Obsessed.com

About Greta Garbo

IMDb Wiki

Official Website, with trailers of several of her Hollywood features

An unforgettable face... perfect bone structure... hypnotic eyes... an impenetrable gaze... husky voice... a face capable of registering everything and yet... nothing

Greta Garbo was the ultimate Hollywood star, envied by millions of fans and co-workers. She was a woman who set her own standards and became a legend in her own time...

- Introduction by Phillip Oliver, administrator of Greta Garbo: The Ultimate Star

Another fan site with dozens of links to other Garbo resources

It was all in the face. Garbo's face made her body irrelevant. Men lusted for her. Women lusted for her. But mostly from the neck up.

Her beauty was a function of the screen. Garbo in casual snapshots and unretouched portraits looks like a robust Scandinavian girl. In formal studio portraits, she is striking, but no more so than a half-dozen other women of the era. It's only in motion that she becomes Garbo, a fact that disproves the notion that her onscreen power was an accident of looks. On screen, no one had what she had.

Since the 1980s, video has made Garbo's image accessible, around the clock, to anyone who owns a video recorder. But before the days of video, seeing a Garbo film in a theater was a singular and rather tense experience. With each close-up, a quiet panic would seize the audience. A whole theater would, all at once, stop breathing and watch, trying to take in as much of that face as it could. It was a face with a riddle to it. It was a face you could never fully know your way around. Garbo's face was, in a real sense, a special effect, something to be appreciated in and of itself, apart from whatever function it served in the story. Like morphing, fast-moving fireballs, and other special effects, its impact is diminished on television. Garbo needs the big screen.

- Mick LaSalle, Complicated Women: Sex and Power in Pre-Code Hollywood. Published by Macmillan, 2001. Page 37

September 18 2005 marks the centenary of the birth of Greta Garbo, an icon both resonant and remote to us. It feels a perilous centenary. In 20 years' time, no one will need to make an argument for the centenary of Marilyn Monroe, with her hourglass silhouette, her voluptuous blondness. It is different with Garbo: you have to make a case for Garbo. She resonates because hers was ultimately a career of photographs, and this we recognise. She is remote because the great photographs of Garbo are abstractions; they are not of a woman, they are of a face. Garbo's body was an irrelevance. From our 21st-century icons we demand bodies: bodies are to be admired, coveted and - if one works hard enough - gained. You can have something resembling Britney's body, if you try. But you cannot have Garbo's face. It was hers alone, a gift she used for as long as she could make it signify; and then, aged only 36, withdrew from public view, keeping it hidden until she died.

This face was memorably described by the philosopher Roland Barthes, who identified it as a transition between two semiological epochs, two ways of seeing women. Garbo marked the passage from awe to charm, from concept to substance: "The face of Garbo is an idea, that of Hepburn an event." There was something essential, Platonic and unindividuated in Greta's face. She was woman, as opposed to Audrey who was a woman, whom we loved precisely because her beauty was so quirky, so particular. Garbo has no quirks at all. A close-up of her face appears to reveal fewer features than the rest of us - such an expanse of white - punctuated by the minimum of detail, just enough to let you know that this is flesh, not spirit. Her vulnerable, changeable face is what comes prior to the emphatic mask of a beautiful woman - she is the ideal of beauty that those masks attempt to capture. Post-Garbo, we have taken what resonated in Garbo's fluid sexuality and mystery and hardened it, made it a commodity.

Take Garbo's heavy, deep-set eyelids: these have become the mark of the diva, passing down through Marlene, to Marilyn and, more recently, to Madonna, in whom they have become ironic. Hers is the ultimate modern Garbo face, attached to a worked-out body, and also to the idea of female ambition and talent. The idea of Garbo is somehow more elevated than that - it doesn't even condescend itself to the pursuit and fulfilment of talent. It merely "is". Let's face it: Garbo was not an actress in the way Bette Davis was an actress. Garbo was a presence. In fact, is it OK to say, 100 years on, that Garbo was not a very good actress? That some of her best work was still and silent? It could be said that her best director was, in fact, a still photographer, MGM's famous Clarence Bull. He did not try to know her or "uncover" her, as her movie directors sometimes did, giving her those awkward, wordy speeches that revealed less than one raised eyebrow could manage. Bull understood the attraction of her self-containment. Years later he recalled that where other photographers had tried to penetrate the mystery, "I accepted it for what it was - nature's work of art ... She was the face and I was the camera. We each tried to get the best out of our equipment."

Garbo's shots, lit with the "Rembrandt lighting" that would make her famous, are sculptural portraits, more Rodin than raunch. The Garbo image is yet unformed, but the beginnings of an iconic persona are here. She had a relationship with light like no other actress; wherever you directed it on her face, it created luminosity. She needed no soft or diffuse lighting to disguise defects. There were no defects. And then there is that sense of European ennui, of weltschmerz, that no MGM player had projected before. They had vamps, they had sex bombs, but they'd never had existential depression. "In America you are all so happy," she told a reporter. "Why are you all so happy all the time? I am not always happy. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. When I am angry, I am very bad. I shut my door and do not speak."

It is no story of tragedy. She wished to live, but not publicly. She dressed as she liked, and did as she liked. In her own later years, Crawford told a journalist: "I never go out unless I look like Joan Crawford the movie star. If you want to see the girl next door, go next door." Garbo didn't even look as good as the girl next door. Her face (though she refused to believe it) was still beautiful, her wardrobe less so: jumpers, hats, scarfs, slacks, raincoats. She kept a screwed-up piece of Kleenex in her left hand to cover her face should anyone try to photograph her. If she saw a fan approaching, she would say to her walking companion, "We've got a customer", and change direction. She wanted to be alone. Garbo, the icon, was over. Age made of Greta a person, and the personhood of Garbo was never for sale. She would be myth or nothing at all.

- Zadie Smith, The Guardian, September 25 2005

Garbo still belongs to that moment in cinema when capturing the human face still plunged audiences into the deepest ecstasy, when one literally lost oneself in a human image as one would in a philtre, when the face represented a kind of absolute state of the flesh, which could be neither reached nor renounced. A few years earlier the face of Valentino was causing suicides; that of Garbo still partakes of the same rule of Courtly Love, where the flesh gives rise to mystical feelings of perdition.

It is indeed an admirable face-object. In Queen Christina, a film which has again been shown in Paris in the last few years, the make-up has the snowy thickness of a mask: it is not a painted face, but one set in plaster, protected by the surface of the colour, not by its lineaments. Amid all this snow at once fragile and compact, the eyes alone, black like strange soft flesh, but not in the least expressive, are two faintly tremulous wounds. In spite of its extreme beauty, this face, not drawn but sculpted in something smooth and fragile, that is, at once perfect and ephemeral, comes to resemble the flour-white complexion of Charlie Chaplin, the dark vegetation of his eyes, his totem-like countenance.

Now the temptation of the absolute mask (the mask of antiquity, for instance) perhaps implies less the theme of the secret (as is the case with Italian half mask) than that of an archtype of the human face. Garbo offered to one's gaze a sort of Platonic Idea of the human creature, which explains why her face is almost sexually undefined, without however leaving one in doubt. It is true that this film (in which Queen Christina is by turns a woman and a young cavalier) lends itself to this lack of differentiation; but Garbo does not perform in it any feat of transvestism; she is always herself, and carries without pretence, under her crown or her wide-brimmed hats the same snowy solitary face. The name given to her, the Divine, probably aimed to convey less a superlative state of beauty than the essence of her corporeal person, descended form a heaven where all things are formed and perfected in the clearest light. She herself knew this: how many actresses have consented to let the crowd see the ominous maturing of their beauty. Not she, however; the essence was not to be degraded, her face was not to have any reality except that of its perfection, which was intellectual even more that formal. The Essence became gradually obscured, progressively veiled with dark glasses, broad hats and exiles: but it never deteriorated.

And yet, in this deified face, something sharper than a mask is looming: a kind of voluntary and therefore human relation between the curve of the nostrils and the arch of the eyebrows; a rare, individual function relating two regions of the face. A mask is but a sum of lines; a face, on the contrary, is above all their thematic harmony. Garbo's face represents this fragile moment when the cinema is about to draw an existential from an essential beauty, when the archtype leans towards the fascination of mortal faces, when clarity of the flesh as essence yields its place to a lyricism of Woman.

Viewed as a transition the face of Garbo reconciles two iconographic ages, it assures the passage from awe to charm. As is well known, we are today at the other pole of this evolution: the face of Audrey Hepburn, for instance, is individualized, not only because of its peculiar thematics (woman as child, woman as kitten) but also because of her person, of an almost unique specification of the face, which has nothing of the essence left in it, but is constiuted by an infinite complexity of morphological functions. As a language, Garbo's singularity was of the order of the concept, that of Audrey Hepburn is of the order of the substance. The face of Garbo is an Idea, that of Hepburn an Event.

- Roland Barthes, "The Face of Garbo." From Mythologies.  London: Vintage, 1993; pp. 56-7

About Mauritz Stiller

The curious and contradictory art of Mauritz Stiller sits as uncomfortably within the established modes of film criticism as the life of its author within the conventions of his day. Invariably cited alongside Victor Sjöström as the founding father of Swedish cinema, Stiller is generally slighted by the comparison. The Finnish-born director of Russian-Jewish ancestry, who would enjoy fame in Sweden and suffer frustration in Hollywood, and who was to write in his last months, “I have all my life wondered where I belong,” was certainly a voyager and a wanderer – yet to successive generations of critics, he has been a journeyman in contrast to Sjöström's “artist”. The serious and nationalistic concerns of Sjöström's work, its severe morality and literary prestige, ideally suited him for canonisation by critics seeking to promote an indigenous Scandinavian cinema in defiance of the Hollywood model, while his visual poetry and thematic consistency sustained his reputation in the age of auteurism. Stiller's output, by contrast, was largely too trivial for the former approach and too varied for the latter. In Richard Combs' phrase, he displayed “the versatility and lightness of a genre stylist.” If Sjöström's pre-eminence is not seriously challengeable, Stiller is, nonetheless, the more contemporary figure. The sophisticated ironies and satiric wit of his comedies, coupled with the subjectivity and self-criticism of his masterpiece in a more serious vein, Gunnar Hede's Saga (1923), should speak more directly to the concerns of the twenty-first century than Sjöström's stark morality plays and pastoral melodramas. It's also ironic that Stiller's relative neglect was scarcely challenged by a generation of critics who in the context of Hollywood cinema admired precisely the ability to stamp personal concerns on diverse material. Stiller's abiding themes – the function of the artist in society, the status of the outsider – span his work in all genres. He made assignments his own, and there are parallels to the single most obvious division in his work – that between comedy and epic – in the polarity between comedies and action films in the oeuvre of Howard Hawks.

Stiller's career path, however, most closely parallels that of a filmmaker like Nicholas Ray: an early period of popular yet critically scorned films in a variety of genres, interspersed with the occasional critical success; then a sequence of works in which generic plots became more clearly the vehicle for personal themes; graduation to bigger and more prestigious projects, which however proved less congenial to his talents; and a final period of exile, disappointment and failure. In fact the unhappiness of Stiller's years in Hollywood is not easily explicable, and it's curious that Sjöström's rather more austere style of filmmaking should have flourished at MGM, while Stiller was left unemployed and detached from his great discovery, Greta Garbo. His one surviving American film, Hotel Imperial (1927), is both stylish and commercially shrewd. MGM may have been reluctant to exploit his talents, but by the time worsening health forced his return to Sweden, he was under contract to Paramount, the most continental and cosmopolitan of Hollywood studios, and surely the most congenial environment for Sweden's Lubitsch. A sound remake of Erotikon with Fredric March, Roland Young and Kay Francis would be an agreeable hypothesis to go with those potential masterpieces that F.W. Murnau and Louise Brooks ought to have been producing at Paramount in the '30s.

- Alexander Jacoby, Senses of Cinema

Like the other two distinguished pioneers of the early Swedish cinema, Sjöström and Sjöberg, Mauritz Stiller had an essentially theatrical background. But it must be remembered that he was reared in Finland of Russian-Jewish stock, did not immigrate to Sweden until he was 27, and remained there only 15 years before going to Hollywood. He responded relatively late to the Swedish cultural tradition, so heavily influenced by the country's extreme northern climate and landscape, and by the fatalistic, puritanical literary and dramatic aura exerted most notably by the Swedish dramatist Strindberg and the Nobel prize-winning novelist Selma Lagerlöf. The latter's works—Herr Arne's Treasure, Gunnar Hede's Saga, and Gösta Berlings Saga—were inspired by tradition and legend, and were all to be adapted by Stiller for the silent screen.

- Roger Manvell, Film Reference.com

”Borg, people say that I am in love with Mauritz, don’t they? That is not true. Borg, I have never been anything to any man, not even Mauritz. I do not love him that way, nor he me. I am afraid of him and I think we are finished as it has been before, although I shall always think he is the greatest man in the world.

“You have seen me, Borg, sit on his lap and smoke with bins the same cigarette. You have seen him hold me like a child. It is so good when his arms are around me, for sometimes I am afraid. But it is not love, Borg.” And, in spite of all that has been said of Garbo’s love for Stiller, I believe her, for I have seen them often together. ,later, when Garbo and John Gilbert were “going places “ together, Stiller would cail me.

“Borg,” his low, deep voice would rumble, have you seen Greta?” ”I have not, Mr. Stiller,” I would reply. Is there any message?” ”No,” he would rumble, “ except to tell her to remember what I have taught her never to let life hurt her.”  He knew that she was going about with Gilbert, and his attitude was not that of a jealous man, but of a father who would shield his daughter from hurt Stiller was a strange man. His artistic soul loved the finer, more subtle forms of passion, and it is doubtful if he ever loved a woman—any woman.

- From Sven-Hugo Borg, The Private Life of Greta Garbo - By Her Most Intimate Friend. 1933, Amalgamated Press, London.

About Jules Jaenzon

The English film critic Caroline Lejeune, in an assessment of the early Swedish cinema, noted the sense of reality given by the feeling of texture in objects and clothing and the awareness of landscape. It is obvious that Sjöström and Stiller, the masters of this great period of Scandinavian cinema, owed much to the technical and artistic skills of their cameramen, the principal of whom was Julius Jaenzon.

Stiller used him to film his epic The Story of Gösta Berling, originally a two-part film. The range of Jaenzon's work is remarkable. In the exciting sequence of the sled chased across the frozen lake by wolves, or the lovely visions of Garbo in her first great success, and the cavaliers of Ekeby in their revels, the beauty of Jaenzon's work is unmistakable. One remembers the blazing eyes of Lars Hanson as he denounces his parishoners from the pulpit or the two lonely figures of Margarita Samzelius and her old mother pushing the great wooden levers of the old mill while no words pass between them.

- Liam O'Leary, Film Reference.com

About Selma Ottiliana Lovisa Lagerlöf

Biography on Books and Writers