THE PASSION OF ANNA (Ingmar Bergman, 1969)
Film Society of Lincoln Center
Howard Gilman Theater, Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center
144 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Wednesday, October 2, 6:30
Festival runs September 27 - October 13
The New York Film Festival’s Retrospective tribute to cinematographers continues October 2 with The Passion of Anna, the conclusion to Ingmar Bergman’s unofficial island trilogy that began with Hour of the Wolf and Shame, each work filmed on Fårö island and starring Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow as a couple. Bergman throws caution to the wind in the film, the Swedish title of which is the more direct and honest The Passion. The 1969 film was made while Bergman and Ullmann’s personal relationship was ending, and it shows. The film opens with Andreas Winkelman (von Sydow) trying to repair his leaking roof. A divorcé, he lives by himself on the island, treasuring his isolation as he smokes his pipe and goes about his basic business. But when Anna Fromm (Ullmann) stops by to use his phone, he gets swept up into Anna’s drama — her husband and child were recently killed in an accident that left her with a bad leg — and that of her best friends, Elis Vergerus (Erland Josephson) and his wife, Eva (Bibi Andersson). Suddenly Andreas is going to dinner parties, taking in a puppy, and getting involved in the mysterious case of a rash of animal killings, which some are blaming on off-kilter local resident Johan Andersson (Erik Hell). And the more his privacy is invaded, the worse it all could become.
For the first time, Bergman, a perfectionist of the highest order, allowed improvisation in several scenes. He gives each actor a few minutes to describe their characters during the film, breaking the fourth wall, while also adding his own narration. “Has Ingmar Bergman made a picture about his cast, or has his cast made a picture about Ingmar Bergman?” the original American trailer asks. Cinematographer extraordinaire Sven Nykvist (The Sacrifice, Persona) uses a handheld camera while switching between black-and-white and color, occasionally focusing on dazzling silhouettes and close-ups that are challenged by the stark reds of a blazing fire and Anna’s hat and the bold blues of the sky and Anna’s penetrating eyes, all splendidly edited by Siv Lundgren. Bergman tackles such regular subjects as God, infidelity, dreams, war, and loneliness with a slow build that threatens to explode at any moment. The film is also very much about the search for truth, both in real life and cinema. It might be called The Passion of Anna, but there is an overarching coldness that pervades everything. The finale is sensational, the scene going out of focus until virtually nothing is left. The Passion of Anna is screening on October 2 at 6:30 at the Howard Gilman Theater; the NYFF57 Retrospective sidebar runs through October 10 with such other visual dazzlers as Terrence Malick’s Days of Heaven, Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, and Robert Altman’s McCabe & Mrs. Miller.