Sunday, February 21, 2010
Just when I was craving Bergman, Netflix delivered The Serpent's Egg. Ingmar made a film in English? With a Hollywood budget, and Dino DeLaurentis producing? Well, I just had to see that.
This is the worst Bergman film I've seen, and the least interesting. The setting is Berlin, 1933. Abel Rosenberg is an American trapeze artist who performs with his brother. When his brother commits suicide, Abel is cast adrift during the Great Depression. He speaks no German, he's unemployed, and he's Jewish. Fascist thugs and Bolsheviks foment unrest and revolt, and a serial killer is injecting people with poisons. Abel seeks out his brother's ex-wife and together they scrap out a meager existence. Abel finds out that he and his sister-in-law are not only cogs in a broken capitalist machine, but they are subjects in a grotesque series of psychological experiments.
Now any Bergman film is bound to have something to recommend: cinematography, powerful performances, razor-sharp dialogue...Unfortunately The Serpent's Egg has none of these. There are wonderful complex sets, and hordes of appropriately attired extras, and there are some quaint recreations of the club scene in waning Weimar Germany. But the plot doesn't really cohere, and the central character is played by of all people David Carradine. His performance is so inept that it drains any potential points of interest out of the film. He is so laughably bad it's distracting, and watching him interact with Liv Ullmann made me speculate: was this not the worst possible pairing? What American actor could one less reasonably expect in a Bergman film? Sly Stallone? Gary Coleman? So any thematic material, or scenes of psychological complexity, were ruined by his risable gesturings.
Strangely, I stuck it out to the end--it wasn't really worth it. But I felt I owed it to the maestro nonetheless.