Sunday, November 06, 2005

We Must Put Our Trust in God

Winter Light is cold as a porcelain outhouse seat in Michigan during the month of January. The elements: A rural parish pastor--a widower for four years--struggles with his own faith. His tiny congregations dwindle dramatically because he's merely going through the motions and they know it. Almost half those in attendance are staff volunteers, including a drunk cynical organist, a hunchbacked maintanance dude who suffers unimanginable pain, and the pastor's female assistant, with whom he had an affair, and who suffocates him with her unwanted attentions.

One of his parishoners is a fisherman with three kids and a fourth on the way. Dude's had a sort of negative epiphany after reading that the Chinese are experimenting with nukes, and wants to end it all. He speaks to the pastor to ease his mind, but rather than finding comfort in their talk, decides to hasten his end shortly after.

Max von Sydow is devestating as the fisherman, Gunnar Björnstrand is magnificent as the jaded pastor, and Ingrid Thulin plays the mistress with exquisite subtlety. She has an extended monologue in close-up that will curl your toes.

I was interested in the cinematography, which was very gritty for a Bergman film--all the blocking is ingenius as usual, but technically this doesn't look like a polished Ingmar classic. Of course he intended this effect thematically, and it works well. My favorite sequence is of the sun--barely above the horizon at noon--shining trough the cold empty Lutheran church window as the pastor collapses at the altar from illness and dismay. Beautiful.

Yeah, it's dark and brooding and unpleasant, but there's optimism here. At least one character understands faith and redemption, and so long as that's true the others have hope.