Prison (Ingmar Bergman / Sweden, 1949):
(Fängelse; The Devil's Wanton)

Ingmar Bergman has a curious construction, his most reflexive prior to Persona and A Passion, starting on a windy hillside and moving into a chamber of noise and smoke. Industrial inferno? No, movie studio. The math professor just out of the mental institution (Anders Henrikson) has a pitch, the director pupil (Hasse Ekman) listens to it at lunch, it's "a film about Hell." ("We have seen the prologue," the opening credits are recited over a tracking shot down a rainswept Stockholm street.) Despair pushes the alcoholic writer (Birger Malmsten) near murder and his wife runs away, elsewhere there's the teenage prostitute (Doris Svedlund) he once interviewed for an article. The stock romantic vision (swooners on a swaying vessel) is dismantled as cinematic bluff, real lovers hide out in the boarding house's attic and snuggle with a hand-cranked projector, a key image for Godard's Histoire(s) du Cinéma. (Devils and skeletons figure in the flickering Mack Sennett pastiche, not even slapstick is safe from the reaper.) Between birth and death, the "great work of humorous art" that is life for the morbid young, Bergman already has the full panoply to lay it bare. "Our generation lacks everything, even chaos!" A dream recounted like a Maya Deren junk drawer: Music-box clowns and a forest out of frozen people, the heroine's dead baby is a plastic doll in a bathtub. The hidden lade in the boiler room is finally put to merciful use, it brings on many changes, as the song goes. "Why so sarcastic?" "Why so serious?" Ray's Knock on Any Door is concurrent, lights out at the studio. With Eva Henning, Stig Olin, and Irma Christenson. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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