WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS!
Hello fellow film geeks, and welcome back.
As you can tell from the title, today we are talking about none other than Ingmar Bergman (Sweden, 1918-2007). If you are new to his work, know that he released some of the greatest masterpieces of European cinema between the 1950s and the early 1980s. Among them, the most famous are probably The Seventh Seal (1957) and Persona (1966). He is one of my very favourite directors so, in case you want to learn more, I am definitely talking about him again in the future!
Something that particularly fascinates me about Bergman is his way of creating some of the most tridimensional female characters in the history of cinema, despite being a quite an unpleasant individual when it came to deal with real-life women.
Today I am analysing three of his female characters and their development in three different love stories:
1 - Marie from Summer Interlude (1951)
We see this character evolving through a nonlinear narrative. In the beginning, we encounter Marie as a successful prima ballerina in her late twenties. Then, following her memories of a past love, as a teenager with an already developed passion for dancing. Other than the fil rouge of ballet, the film mood in the two presented timelines is completely different, and so is the character.
As a teenager, she appears lively, romantic, carefree, and imaginative. Her character development, though, seems to take a definitive turn since the very moment her boyfriend Henrik passes away. Her reaction to her lover's death is cold and shows almost no emotions. However, the long silent tracking shot of her walking in the corridor with a blank face perfectly represents the emptiness she felt. And the later reprise of the same mood in the car shot shows how this feeling will mark her for a long time, possibly forever. We find her thirteen years later still being emotionally distant, seemingly unable to truly love her new partner and living dancing as a form of escapism rather than a life passion.
Although Summer Interlude is, in my opinion, quite underrated, this is my favourite Bergman's film, and I believe he nailed the abrupt change that occurs in a character's mind following a traumatic event.
2 - Monika from Summer with Monika (1953)
Ah, Monika, Monika. Speaking of trauma, she definitely comes to my mind when I think of the saying "your bad experiences don't allow you to be a jerk". Monika comes from an abusive situation that involves an alcoholic and violent father, and that is what makes you empathise with her character at first. Despite what she is living at home, we still see her as a strong and independent woman. As she decides to leave the city on a boat with her boyfriend Harry, we perceive her as a carefree woman who is tired of her daily reality and tries to escape it.
However, she soon progresses towards being a spoiled, ungrateful, and self-entitled woman. Harry - who was previously represented as lazy and clumsy at work - studies day and night to become a mechanic to improve his financial situation and provide for both Monika and their newborn child. Monika, though, only sees his efforts as a way to neglect her and not buying her any new clothes. She even takes this as an excuse to cheat on him...with the guy who used to beat him! Whether her pick comes from a Freudian father-complex or not, her behaviour when accused is frantic and inconsistent, being extremely unapologetic at first, and then bursting into tears when Harry impulsively slaps her for the first time. As much as I absolutely do not defend his act and I wish hers to be a genuine nervous breakdown, I cannot but see her as selfish and manipulative. To confirm this, she will eventually abandon him with the child.
After all, nothing changed from the beginning: any time she, consciously or not, doesn't like herself, she leaves, as the cause of her dissatisfaction was always and exclusively the outer world and never herself.
3 - Marianne from Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
Marianne seems to be living a perfect life, with a secure job as a divorcing lawyer, her husband Johan, their two children, and a beautiful house. She is older than the other two characters I have analysed, and you would expect her to have abandoned the naivety typical of the twenties. However, it's only by listening to her clients and unhappy friends that she realises how her life is not as perfect as it looks like. Despite all Marianne's efforts, Johan is repeatedly cheating on her with a younger woman and blames on Marianne for their failing marriage.
The film gradually turns into a true hate story. For a while, and despite the hurt, Marianne tries her best to keep the marriage going, at least for her children. Johan, though, decides to leave with his mistress nevertheless, and states that he doesn't care at all for either Marianne or their kids.
I find it heartbreaking to see this story escalating from a regular boring marriage to a verbally and physically violent war at each other. But even more so is to see how they always go back to each other, and get hurt again, and leave again, even while living separate lives decades after.
Their relationship will eventually resolve into a never-ending love-hate. They will always belong to each other, but they will never fully have each other. And, just like in the beginning, she will settle, but with the understanding that they destroyed everything just to be in the same situation again with someone else - with whom they will never have the same bond anyway.
To conclude, in an era of women portrayed in cinema as nothing more than mere stereotypes, Bergman birthed the first female characters that felt real. Every single them is worth being analysed. To become a better writer or, if nothing, a more understanding person.
Ingmar Bergman SPECIAL EDITION
(39 films + illustrated book)
by Criterion Collection
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Bergman and Women by Robert Boyers
Women on a Bergman Screen by Leigh Singer
Hard-hitting film takes aim at Ingmar Bergman's flawed way with women by Richard Orange
Bergman: why are the greatest director's women all tragi-sexual goddesses? by Peter Bradshaw
Susan E. Kavanagh
Artist and cinema geek.