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DVD Review: Classic Bergman collection

★★★★☆

Critically acclaimed Swedish auteur Ernst Ingmar Bergman, director of such magnificent films as The Seventh Seal (1957) and Wild Strawberries (1957), is commonly regarded as one of world cinema’s greatest ever directors – and rightly so. Now, thanks to Artificial Eye, fans can enjoy a five-disc Classic Bergman collection of some of his earliest films that, until recently, have been unavailable to own on DVD/Blu-ray. First in the collection is It Rains on our Love (1946), only Bergman’s second feature, which centres upon young and impoverished couple Maggi (Barbro Kollberg) and David (Birger Malmsten).

After breaking into a summer cottage, the couple are discovered by the owner who then offers to rent the run down house to them. However, it soon becomes apparent that he has ulterior motives. Here, Bergman touches on some of the themes of betrayal and deception that became a staple in his oeuvre. They are, however, more simplistically expressed, the focus being on telling a melodramatic yet entertaining narrative, rather than deeper exploration of more complex themes.

A Ship Bound for India (1947) followed a year later, garnering critical praise at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival. The story follows sailor Johannes Blom (Holger Lwenadier), who returns home after seven years at sea to find his lover, Sally (Gertrud Fridh), in the throws of depression. The plot then shifts back seven years (flashbacks were to become a staple feature of Bergman’s films) to when Johannes lived and worked with his abusive father Alexander (Holger Löwenadler). A Ship Bound for India is one of this collection’s most psychologically complex works and makes heavy, yet appropriate, use of symbolism in almost every scene.

Before becoming a filmmaker, Bergman worked in theatre and went on to utilise this experience in his 1953 feature Sawdust and Tinsel. In the theatrical world of a travelling circus we find Albert (Åke Grönberg), who returns to the home-town where his estranged wife and two children live. To make matters worse, Albert is travelling with his jealous, yet promiscuous mistress Anne (Harriet Andersson), who has also begun an affair with a young actor. Dramatic lighting is used to full effect here, making for a brooding atmosphere in which the theme of suffering is explored. Viewers will also start to see signs of Bergman’s maturation. His expertly crafted screenplay shows the care and consideration he employed in all his works, spending months, even years, refining his scripts until he was happy.

Fourth in the collection is Dreams (1955), the intriguing tale of two women (a fashion editor and a younger model) who travel to Gothenburg for work as we watch their individual love-lives unfold alongside their unlikely friendship. Dreams shows Bergman’s rich ability to dig into the female psyche and express it in an intelligent and emotional manner. Yet despite its careful exploration of existentialism – whereby the characters question their position in society relative to their age and gender – this is one of the weaker examples of Bergman’s work courtesy of an under-developed plot.

Lastly, and most disappointing of the collected films, is So Close to Life (1958). Shot in a pseudo-documentary style in a maternity ward over a 24-hour period, the film focuses upon three women who are about to give birth. There is a claustrophobic atmosphere throughout, with the action confined to only two rooms, and the three contrasting stories have the potential to makes for captivating viewing. Unfortunately, much like Dreams, the narrative is under-developed and lacks the power to grip audiences quite like Bergman’s best.

This new Classic Bergman collection is certainly a must-have purchase for Bergman fans and newcomers alike. The greatest pleasure that can be taken away from the DVD/Blu-ray set is the chance to see a promising director grow and develop into a master of cinema – for that alone, this collection is worth purchasing.

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Joe Walsh