In the beginning, a director (Hasse Ekman) is approached by a former teacher (Anders Henrikson), now aged, just released from a mental asylum and pitching a film idea about Hell on Earth. Life is "a cruel but seductive path between birth and death," Henrikson puffs, and Ingmar Bergman, working for the first time entirely from a screenplay of his own, spends the rest of the film trying to argue to the contrary. Is God dead? Did He ever exist? "Anybody who really thinks about life commits suicide," states prematurely disillusioned writer Birger Malmsten, whose nihilistic worldview ligthens a tad through his relationship with doomed teenage prostitute Doris Svedlund. The main characters are common staples of Bergman's troubled-youngster period, where the weight of the world crushes souls and only regressive isolation provides refuge -- in the picture's most intriguing suggestion, their moments of happiness together are linked to cinema's own infancy, as Malmsten and Svedlund, holed up in a cluttered attic, delight to a piece of hand-cranked, faux-Méliès slapstick. Unrelentingly gloomy (the Swedish title means Prison), the film is all too obviously a purgative for the young filmmaker's tensions, neuroses, and other undigested baggage, though Bergman's despair here toes close to a kind of morbid egotism, facilely, selfishly anguished. Already cumbersomely tricked out with self-reflexive paraphernalia, the film thinks nothing of offering Svedlund as sacrificial lamb to the cruelty of the world while indulging in grabby expressionism (with a dream sequence a torrential of Germanic symbolism) and the tortured complacency of its hero. With Eva Hanning, Stig Olin, and Irma Christenson. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce