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Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman alter ego Max Von Sydow pull up to shore in HOUR OF THE WOLF

Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman alter ego Max von Sydow pull up to shore in HOUR OF THE WOLF

HOUR OF THE WOLF (VARGTIMMEN) (Ingmar Bergman, 1968)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center
Francesca Beale Theater
144 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Saturday, December 14, 6:45, and Thursday, December 19, 9:15
Festival runs December 13-19

One of Ingmar Bergman’s most critically polarizing films — the director himself wrote, “No, I made it the wrong way” three years after its release — Hour of the Wolf is a gripping examination of an artist’s psychological deterioration. Bergman frames the story as if it’s a true tale being told by Alma Borg (Liv Ullmann) based on her husband Johan’s (Max von Sydow) diary, which she has given to the director. In fact, as this information is being shown in words onscreen right after the opening credits, the sound of a film shoot being set up can be heard behind the blackness; thus, from the very start, Bergman is letting viewers know that everything they are about to see might or might not be happening, blurring the lines between fact and fiction in the film itself as well as the story being told within. And what a story it is, a gothic horror tale about an artist facing both a personal and professional crisis, echoing the life of Bergman himself. Johan and Alma, who is pregnant (Ullmann was carrying Bergman’s child at the time), have gone to a remote island where he can pursue his painting in peace and isolation. But soon Johan is fighting with a boy on the rocks, Alma is getting a dire warning from an old woman telling her to read Johan’s diary, and the husband and wife spend some bizarre time at a party in a castle, where a man walks on the ceiling, a dead woman arises, and other odd goings-on occur involving people who might be ghosts. Bergman keeps the protagonists and the audience guessing as to what’s actually happening throughout: The events could be taking place in one of the character’s imaginations or dreams (or nightmares), they could be flashbacks, or they could be part of the diary come to life. Whatever it is, it is very dark, shot in an eerie black-and-white by Sven Nykvist, part of a trilogy of grim 1968-69 films by Bergman featuring von Sydow and Ullmann that also includes Shame and The Passion of Anna. Today, Hour of the Wolf feels like a combination of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining with elements of Mozart’s The Magic Flute — which Bergman would actually adapt for the screen in 1975 and features in a key, extremely strange scene in Hour of the Wolf. But in Bergman’s case, all work and no play does not make him a dull boy at all. Hour of the Wolf is screening December 14 and 19 at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center series “Liv & Ingmar: The Films,” being held in conjunction with the theatrical release of Dheeraj Akolkar’s poetic new documentary, Liv & Ingmar; the festival continues with such other Ullmann/Bergman pairings as Autumn Sonata, Shame, Persona, and Cries and Whispers.

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