“Through a Glass Darkly” – Mathew Plale


In any given ten minutes of an Ingmar Berman (1918-2007) film, more trust is exposed than in most filmmakers’ entire careers. Bergman doesn’t have so much a touch as he does a sting.


Karin (Harriet Andersson), recently released from a mental ward, vacations with her family on a desolate island — there is her doctor husband, Martin (Bergman regular Max von Sydow), and her brother Minus (Lars Passgård), a teenage playwright with an ailing relationship with his father (Gunnar Björnstad), who in turn is lost in his own work.


Andersson, as Karin, is fragile, fleshing a human face to her schizophrenia. She experiences a vision of God, paying a visit not unlike Death in 1957’s The Seventh Seal. Whether he does or has is the family’s doubt and ours. The “encounter” remains haunted, shadowed by Bergman, who knows it would be unfair to put us in Karin’s skin. The distance gives us the inner pain. There is a blurry moment when one personality of Karin confesses that re-admittance to the hospital may be what’s best. Is this the plea of a logical, reasoning Karin or the paranoiac, God-faithful Karin?


Only fragments are hinted at, as well, concerning Minus and his father, David. They sit at the same table, but are on other sides of the earth. When David excuses himself from lunch, he’s escaping his son’s eyes until dinner, but when he enters the house he unleashes in a storm of grief. Again, Bergman sits distant, allowing Björnstad’s performance to do the work.


Performance aside, frequent Bergman collaborator and renowned cinematographer Sven Nykvist’s (1922-2006) naturalistic work brings great attention to small details; shadows are spilt ilk, light blinds — there is a personality in his work.


There is a certain hope to Through a Glass Darkly, which won the 1962 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Dark, almost bitter, yes, but hopeful. When David says, to his son, “See you in an hour,” the first moment of truth between the two — we know he means it, even looks forward to it.


With Bergman’s passing in July of 2007, we lost a filmmaker who, though retired at the time, had painted human existence in a way most are afraid to: through a glass, darkly.


Rating: ★★★½


-Mathew Plale

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