Sunday 7 September 2008

The Silence (1963)

As you can imagine from a title like this there's not a lot of noise at the beginning of the film. We're in a train, carrying a pair of sisters, Ester and Anna, along with Anna's young son Johan, to a foreign city at war called Timoka. Outside is nothing, until the nothing becomes long strings of tanks, and then to the city itself. Inside is just the three of them and the distances between them and it's these distances that constitute the silence that the title really speaks of. In this new city, they end up in a hotel suite where their complex relationships gradually clearer.

Ester is the eldest, played by Ingrid Thulin, and she's dying of some unnamed illness, though the coughing suggests tuberculosis. Once established in her bed, she stays there, ordering her drink through the hotel staff. She drinks and smokes, she tries to stay above her pain and she watches her sister. Anna is younger, more beautiful and not sick, and Esther watches her with a lot more than a sisterly eye.

There's a lot of sexual content here, which seems even more impactful than it would warrant because it's in an Ingmar Bergman movie from 1963. Even what is not inherently sexual is sexualised through context: Anna gets dressed and the brief nudity is highlighted because Ester is deliberately watching. It's no great leap to realise that it's Anna she's thinking about when she masturbates. Yes, that's another word I wasn't ever expecting to use in an Ingmar Bergman review. It's far from explicit: Esther remains fully dressed and the camera focuses on her face but there's no doubt as to what's happening. More explicit material comes later, rumours of which spiked Bergman's viewing figures for this film and prompted him to comment that it caused more unwanted viewers than any of his other pictures.

There are also dwarves (and yes, there are seven of them). With his aunt sick in bed and his mother out experiencing the town, Young Johan is mostly left to his own devices, so he wanders around the hotel meeting people, shooting his toy gun at them and urinating in the hallway. I'd love to say more about this but I'm not sure what to say. There's a lot of depth here, that's patently obvious, and it all ties to the relationship between the three of them, especially Ester and Anna but occasionally Johan too. However what that depth really is I don't really know. I didn't get it. Ester loves Anna but Anna thinks Ester hates Anna. Whatever subtleties I'm supposed to be seeing are floating right over my head.

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