Thursday, May 30, 2013

Tystnaden / The Silence

Hiljaisuus. SE 1963. PC: AB Svensk Filmindustri. P manager: Allan Ekelund. D+SC: Ingmar Bergman. DP: Sven Nykvist – b&w – 1,37:1 – lab: FilmTeknik AB. AD: P.A. Lundgren. Cost: Marik Vos. Make-up: Börje Lundh, Gullan Westfelt. M: Ivan Renliden. J. S. Bach: Goldberg-Variationen: Variatio 19. S mixer: Olle Jakobsson – AGA-Baltic. ED: Ulla Ryghe. Script supervisor: Katherina Faragó.
    C: Ingrid Thulin (Ester, translator), Gunnel Lindblom (Anna, Ester's sister), Jörgen Lindström (Johan), Birger Malmsten (waiter at the bar), Håkan Jahnborg (the floor waiter), Eduardini (The Seven Dwarfs), Eduardo Gutterrez (the dwarfs' impresario), Lissi Alandh, Leif Forstenberg (man and woman at the variety), Nils Waldt (cinema cashier), Eskil Kalling (barkeeper), K. A. Bergman (newspaper seller at the bar), Olof Widgren (the old man in the hotel corridor).
    A body double was used in Gunnel Lindblom's nude scenes.
    Studio: Filmstaden (Råsunda).
    Helsinki premiere: 26.2.1965 Maxim, released by Filmipaja. The film got stuck at first in Finnish film censorship and was released first after cuts. Telecasts: 23.2.1973 TV1, 20.8.1976 TV1, 11.10.1989 TV1 – VET 68560 – K16 – 2585 m / 95 min.
   A vintage KAVA print (cuts reinstated) with Finnish subtitles (n.c.) viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (50 Years Ago), 30 May 2013

Visual intensity was my main impression in this viewing of The Silence. It is an extraordinary vision created by Ingmar Bergman and Sven Nykvist in close collaboration.

The Silence is a fine example of Expressionism. It is a series of powerful shots with a strange current, but the power of that current is well controlled.

There are direct Baroque references: the Goldberg variations of J. S. Bach, the Rubens painting on the hotel wall, and the Velázquez-like costume procession of the Eduardini, one of them dressed as an incarnation of Death.

During their train journey Ester, Anna, and Anna's little son Johan stop for one day at Hotel Europa in a city called Timoka due to Ester's illness which may be mortal.

There are soldiers on the train, there are tanks on a parallel train, a rumbling tank patrols Timoka, and sounds of jets are heard from the sky. There is an atmosphere of occupation.

The country has no name, but it could be a Baltic state. The sisters don't know the language, but a few words are seen and heard. One of them is "käsi", which is Finnish or Estonian for "hand". The Hungarian word is "kéz". Timoka is Estonian, meaning "the one given to the executioner" according to Jörn Donner.

Sexuality has become unhinged. Anna is not only a nymphomaniac. She seems to be suffering from sex addiction. She needs sex all the time and has no problem with total strangers, but sexual fulfillment does not bring her happiness.

Ester is suffering from a mortal illness, she smokes and drinks, she satisfies her carnal needs with her own fingers, and she is uncomfortable with sexuality, yet she has a desire for intimacy, for touching, and for tenderness.

It is a strange relationship. "When you are ill you are in command". - Bergman speaks with Chekhov: "You always talk so much about love".

Johan finds the sisters weird and is puzzled that her mother always sneaks away as soon as she can ("smiter i väg så fort hon kan"). Johan's is the central viewpoint of the film.

The Silence has been seen as a film of despair. I see it as a vision of a) the desperate situation of the Soviet-occupied sector of Europe and b) two sisters who have failed to grow into harmonious personalities. Yet Johan is a strong presence of the future and possible hope.

Words about a film called The Silence can sound banal and inadequate. These images are deep and resonant, and they cannot be reduced into simple verbal explanations. There is a vibrant quality in the performances and the imagery that transcends simplifications.

The Silence is a stark masterpiece always worth revisiting.

We screened The Silence in our 50 Years Ago series. The Silence was shot from July until September in 1962, in the year when the Cold War was at its hottest, and the film is, among other things, a poet's vision of the world in mortal danger.

The vintage print looks like it has been struck from the negative. Seen like this The Silence is a superb work of visual art. The print has been in heavy use, and there is a lot of tell-tale "rain" in the starts and the tails. Never mind; the definition of light is breathtaking, and the film keeps surprising with its composition and its visual invention. It gets better with repeated viewings when the surprise element is no longer distracting.

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