MFA series uncovers versatility of Ingrid Bergman
INGRID BERGMAN IN SWEDEN
Walpurgis Night (1935, Gustaf Edgren), April 6 at 7:45 pm.
A Woman's Face (1938, Gustaf Molander), April 11 at 6:00 pm.
June Night (1940, Per Lindberg),
April 13 at 7:30 pm.
Screenings at Remis Auditorium,
Museum of Fine Arts.
By AARON McPHERSON
DESPITE THE BLACK-AND-WHITE and the subtitles, Walpurgis Night, A Woman's Face and June Night are not "art films." They are charming 1930s melodramas, starring the versatile actress Ingrid Bergman. These films were made in Sweden as her star was ascending, leading to a career in America and worldwide recognition.
Capable of acting the gamut from girlishly fetching to intelligently vulnerable, Bergman always projects accessibility, a beauty that welcomes rather than excludes. In these three films, Bergman plays three very different women, but all are human, given real feelings and thoughts by a superb actress. If you are in the mood for good, basic cinema, made for adults who know what it means to fall in love and make a few mistakes along the way, these offerings from the Museum of Fine Arts should interest and comfort you.
Lena Bergstrom (Ingrid Bergman) and Johan Borg (Lars Hanson) are in love, spending beautiful Walpurgis Night at a fine restaurant enjoying a delicious meal. Johan is married, but has just decided to divorce his wife Clary (Korin Kavli) because she won't bear him any children. Unfortunately, he hasn't had the chance to tell anybody yet, and so the reporter covering the affair, Swenson (Sture Lagerwall), naturally assumes that he and Lena are enjoying an illicit affair at Clary's expense. Luckily, the editor of the paper is Lena's father, and he is able to intercept the photographs before they are front page news. However, he now thinks his daughter is having an affair with a married man.
It goes on from there, with poor Lena wondering why she can't just go out with a nice man without everyone getting on her case. The question which opens the film is, "Why such a low birthrate?" The obvious answer is all the paparazzi and fathers and estranged wives who make it impossible for two people to live together in peace.
With all the hysteria over Donald and Ivana Trump, homosexual representatives, and pot-smoking candidates, this movie is particularly timely, bashing society for its habit of meddling in private lives. It seems that no one has anything better to do than worry about what others are doing, and then bellow in jealous rage when they start having fun. If there's one thing that <>
people hate more than immorality, it's the thought that their neighbors might be getting away with it.
A Woman's Face
Is beauty only skin deep? It is according to this film, which tells the story of Anna Holm (Bergman), a young woman whose face was horribly scarred by fire in childhood. Cast out of society by her deformity, Anna has taken up with a band of crooks who merrily extort money from the beautiful people around them. Anna has the good fortune to blackmail a plastic surgeon and get caught. Taking pity on her, the doctor, Allan Wegert (Anders Henriksson), repairs her face, and a ravishing Ingrid Bergman appears from behind the bandages.
The problem is that Anna still has to get a job as governess for little Lars-Erik Barring (Goran Bernhard), so she can kill him. Then the Barring estate will go to his uncle Torsten (Georg Rydeberg), who is paying a large sum of money to Anna's gang. Not feeling quite so evil now that her scars are gone, Anna finds herself falling in love with Lars-Erik, as well as Harald Berg, a dashing friend of the family. Somehow, she must stop Torsten and the gang from carrying out their plan.
It's difficult to swallow the thesis that physical beauty is so directly linked to inner beauty. Admittedly, after so many movies (Mask, My Left Foot, Children of a Lesser God) about people overcoming physical handicaps to win friends and happiness, it is an intriguing shift to contend that looks are everything. We know it to be at least partly true, but most movies take the attitude that it is what's inside that counts.
As presented here, the "ugly duckling" motif is too simplistic to have any believability. Better to have had Bergman be beautiful and cruel, and find her heart in Lars-Erik and Harald. We don't need fake scar tissue to communicate Anna's change of character. Other than the gimmicky make-up work, the movie is a wonderfully glamorous portrayal of why everyone wants to be rich -- because it's fun! Breathtaking vistas, sumptuous mansions, and thrilling sleigh rides fill the characters' lives with happiness and romance. This is a great escape, if you can ignore the failure of the main symbol.
As in A Woman's Face, Ingrid Bergman once again plays a character trying to escape her past. It seems completely unfair in this case, since her character, Kerstin Nordback, is the victim, having been shot by her jealous boyfriend, Nils Asklund (Gunnur Sjoberg). The case makes all the papers and causes a scandal. Poor Kerstin is forced to change her name to Sara Nordana and move to Stockholm, where she moves in with three other women and gets a job at the local pharmacy.
Nils gets out within a year and comes after her, but not before she has met a handsome young doctor, Stefan von Bremen (Olaf Widgren), at the hospital where she goes to have her bullet wound looked at. There's a big problem, however. Stefan is engaged to Kerstin's roommate Asa.
Nils is amusingly insane with love for Kerstin, but he doesn't have the intelligence to realize that after you shoot your girlfriend, she's not going to be very happy to see you the next time. In the end, true love between Stefan and Kerstin triumphs.
All three films constitute a celebration of nonsense -- the annoying propensity of love to mess up otherwise promising lives. Unlike a Shakespeare play, where all the couples are married off in the end, writers Ragnar Hylten-Cavallius and Per Lindberg are content to leave most of the characters in their movies coughing in the dust. Love, it seems, is arbitrary as well as violent.
June Night has been called "the find" of the festival (which features eight Bergman films being screened on Wednesdays and Fridays through April). But neither it nor its companions are going to revolutionize the way we see movies. Nor is that their intention -- they were produced as mainstream, mass market, potboiler stories, and as such can make you think about the way we deal with romance and scandal today. It seems that very little has changed. Men will be men, and women will be women, and the lovers and the unloved will wage war forever. At least we can go see these movies and take comfort in the knowledge that we are not alone; in fantasy there are others even worse off than us.