Friday, November 04, 2005

"How nice that we can't understand one another."

I believe I'm watching these films out of order, but after seeing the brilliant Through A Glass Darkly I immediately added the other bits of Bergman's "Faith Trilogy" to my Netflix queue. I just watched The Silence and I'm flabbergasted. This film is over 40 years old and it's still shocking.

Edith, a translator fluent in many European languages, is dying of some unnamed ailment. She and her sister Anna and Anna's son Johann are fleeing home to Sweden from a Europe falling under the shadow of war. They stop in a strange hotel where the only other guests are a troop of carnival dwarves. Nobody in the town speaks their language.

The Silence is ironically about communication, and about the subjectivity of meaning. Johann gets more information from a painting of a nymph and satyr than he does from his sexually promiscuous mother, and has his most honest emotional bonds with the dwarves and with a butler in his dotage who speaks another tongue. Esther is able to communicate more clearly with the same butler who can't speak Swedish than with her sister. When the sisters do decide to talk, it's dreadful. Bergman shows how easy it is to confess to those who can't understand us. Remember that this is his trilogy of "faith." Communication happens more easily via art, theater, music, and sex than through the more conventional linguistic manner. In one of many painful scenes, young Johann decides to give his dying aunt a Punch and Judy show instead of reading to her as usual. He communicates volumes.

Watch how Bergman plays with the viewer; there are several teasing cinematic instances which are frought with sexual tension and highly disturbing. Whence this tension? From Bergman's script, or from our own perversions? This is amazingly dense stuff.

Bach features prominently, as in Through a Glass Darkly.

But how is the film about faith? As war approaches, people do the standard things. There are tanks on train cars rolling through town, tanks are on street corners, and planes buzz overhead. And yet people still go to pubs, eat, fix potholes, and try to get laid. If that's not evidence of faith, then what is?

I have to drink bourbon now. I curse you and your brilliance, Ingmar.