In the midst of a cold winter’s Sunday, Pastor Tomas Ericsson (Gunnar Björnstrand) gives a service to a small congregation at a small rural church; despite suffering from a cold and troubles with his faith. After the service ends, local fisherman Jonas Persson (Max Von Sydow) comes to Tomas for help. He is troubled by the fear of nuclear annhilation, but he is unable to receive aid from the Pastor. Tomas spends that time speaking about his own problem and the silence of God rather than steering Jonas away from the thought of taking his own life.
Tomas faces further difficulties when he reads a letter given to him by Marta (Ingrid Thulin). She is a rather timid schoolteacher, but doesn’t shy away from letting Tomas know her love for him; almost to the point of pleading for love his affection. Tomas in return gives the same amount of energy but in an effort to stray her away. All of the events lead to an interesting conclusion.
The second installment on Ingmar Bergman’s Silence of God Trilogy, Winter Light provides an similar but different outlook of God’s Silence. In the first installment Through A Glass Darkly, the characters were more so isolated and was accompanied by the visual metaphor of being on an island. In this film I think Roger Ebert says it best “It is about more than God, silent or not. It is about the silence of a man, Pastor Tomas Ericsson, who speaks enough in the film but is unable to say anything of use to himself or anyone else” which is clearly shown when he speaks to Jonas.
This film has a stronger religious aspect than the other Bergman films that I’ve seen. The film takes place in the church for around 40 minutes which is is full of religious items accompanied by talks of God’s silence. Later on in the film, a member of the church Algot (Allan Edwall), a man who experienced an accident that has left him hunchback; he provides the film with the only sure person who has strong faith. However with all the religious aspects that are present in the film, it remains accessible to people from any background of life.
Gunnar Björnstrand not only plays a man that was ill, but he was also down with the flu during the filming. Throughout the whole film he didn’t appear to be happy at all. Max Von Sydow subtly displays brilliance here. When I think of Sydow in other roles, he has always been serious but appears to be at least content. In Winter Light however he looks as a man who’s living in the last hours of his life because he can’t deal with the torment any longer. Thulin provides the film with real emotions that was much needed after these cold unhappy emotions being evoked from Björnstrand and Sydow.
Still early on in their collaborations together, Cinematographer Sven Nykvist is at the helm providing to what I find to be beautiful cinematography. The land isn’t painted to look spectacular but it looks rather bland and desolate in the snow. The sequence down by the river where the body is located was refreshing after being confined in the church for so long. The snow was flying through the air, the river was raging on in the background and the matter of what was going on gave a real gritty feel to the film. While most of the film was “unappealing” there is the great shot inside the church which gives a gleam of hope and further illustrates that most this film hasn’t been shot beautifully for an intended purpose.
Furthermore to speak more on the brilliance of their collaboration here. There is nearly a six minute close up of Marta speaking. Bergman and Nykvist hold the camera in a steady position while she speaks, which enables you to become tapped in proximity with Marta. She gives a long monologue that resides in the letter Tomas is reading. This scene is quite enthralling due to the exquisite and profound writing that always appears in Bergman’s film. In addition to the writing, due to being stuck in this proximity with her; all of the attention if focused on her words and face. This shot reminds me of Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc; with the notion that all the emotion lies within the eyes, and this whole scene is shot without her glasses on which may be the first time they were off in the film.
Overall, Winter Light was a dreary but great film which I found to enjoy a little more than Through a Glass Darkly. The great performances given by the actors along with the location are enough to watch this film, but the hint that this is more so an autobiography of sorts from Ingmar Bergman himself will has me wanting to pay even more attention next time around.
My Rating: ★★★★½ / ★★★★★
Dir. Ingmar Bergman
IMDb: 8/10 – Rotten Tomatoes 80%
Won NBR Award 1963
“The moments before he died, Christ was seized by doubt. Surely that must have been his greatest hardship? God’s silence.”