Part Of The Picture: Chamber Movie

Posted on August 20, 2010



AUG 21, 2010 – AMONG THE MOST POPULAR MANIFESTATIONS of chamber music is the string quartet, and unsurprisingly, this chamber play too revolves around a quartet of performers – a father (David, played by Gunnar Björnstrand), a son (Minus, played by Lars Passgård), a daughter (Karin, played by Harriet Andersson) and her husband (Martin, played by Max von Sydow). Here, in Bergman’s own words, taken from Images: My Life in Film, are reflections on his performance as conductor/director of this on-screen quartet. “I had my string quartet. But one instrument, Björnstrand, played false notes all the time, and the other instrument, Passgård, certainly followed the written music but had no interpretation. The third instrument, Max von Sydow, played with purity and authority, but I had not given him the elbowroom he needed. The miraculous thing is that Harriet Andersson played Karin’s part with sonorous musicality.”

These four players rise in unison at the film’s beginning, emerging at a distance from a rippling sea. They seem to be a happy bunch, and at first, all we hear is laughter as they splash water playfully on one another. They come closer and closer and eventually clamber onto a narrow pier. As if it were some sort of competition, David exclaims, “I was first up on the jetty!” After wrapping themselves in bathrobes, the quartet begins to snake its way towards the house. Karin says, “If dad and Martin set the nets, Minus and I can fetch the milk.” Martin says, “No, David and Minus can set the nets so I can take a walk with my wife.” David says, “Or Karin and I can set the nets and Minus and Martin fetch the milk.” Minus protests, “I won’t do either. I’ll decide for myself what I want to do.” It’s utterly inconsequential banter, as if this quartet were merely warming up before lunging into the meat of the composition.

The warm-up continues. Karin says, “I haven’t seen you all day, Minus. Let’s go.” Martin wonders, “Why should women always decide?” David says, “I say we do what Karin decides! That way we won’t lose our dignity.” Karin exclaims happily, “Think of the time we’d have saved if Papa had decided that right off.” Minus and Karin scamper away and we’re left with David and Martin. In other words, the quartet is reduced to a duo, playing a duet. David asks, “Should we get dressed before we put out the nets?” Martin wonders, “What do you think?” David says, “It’s a bit chilly. My robe is quite thin.” Martin says, “If you’re cold…” David says, “Me cold? Not a bit. Are you cold?” Martin says, “It was you who said it was chilly. There’s a bit of a wind, though…” David says, “We’ll harden ourselves. Virility overrules health – right?” Martin smiles. “If Hemingway can do it, so can we! Forward march!”

They recede into the distance and we’re invited, for a brief while, to listen to the other duo, Karin and Minus, who begin to play out their duet, which is entirely nonverbal. Karin holds out a container for the milk. Minus grabs it and they begin walking briskly. Karin leads. Minus follows. We return to David and Martin at the nets. David asks, “Will there be a thunderstorm?” Martin answers, “Not tonight.” David says, “I don’t know. Look at those clouds…” Martin asks, “Are you afraid of the thunder?” David says, “You have no idea how terrified I am of it. When it would roll through the Alps, God help us.” Martin asks, “Did you like it there otherwise?” David replies, “I was homesick. But I wasn’t coming home until I finished the novel.” And finally, from the simple lines of music, themes and motifs and a narrative begin to emerge.

Såsom I En Spegel (1961, Swedish; aka Through a Glass Darkly). Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Starring Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow.

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Posted in: Cinema: Foreign