By a customer
, 23 Jun 2008
We find ourselves on an anonymous island belonging to an anonymous country which is at war with an unknown enemy. A married couple, both musicians, have fled here and live in a single story, wooden house. Their radio is unreliable, as is their car. The couple (Eva - Liv Ullmann and Jan - Max von Sydow) have a rocky marriage, their conversation alternating between bitter carping and attempted reconciliation. All the same, they seem to tolerate each other on the whole and many marriages are like this.
The war is distant but casts a paralysing restraint on their lives. Their interaction with other people, when they see them, is minimal. Eva talks to a fisherman but Jan remains aloof in his vehicle. Eva's conversation is drowned out by water from a sluice.
The enemy attack their area with jets and they find a dead paratrooper in a tree. A small force of enemy soldiers get Eva to record a TV interview.
The couple flee, hoping to find protection at the nearest town. Instead they are arrested and accused to collaboration. The TV interview with Eva has been dubbed. They are then seen by Colonel Jacobi (Gunnar BjÃ¶rnstrand), a rather creepy character who walks with a black stick. He tells them they are free to go and just wanted to make an example of them.
The colonel becomes a frequent visitor to their house because he has fallen in love with Eva. He barely attempts to conceal his feelings from Jan.
From this point on, horror piles on horror. This runs in parallel with the moral degeneration of Jan and Eva's attempts to fight it but she is finally resigned to it. Jan is always the selfish whinger and Eva the stronger and more decent of the two, but their deprivations render him a moral husk.
One of the most powerful elements in the film is the unknown and hardly seen war and its accompanying repression at home. The colonel tells them at one point that he could have sent them to a concentration camp, so there is no reason to think the two live in a liberal democracy. Perhaps that is the enemy. The war lies like a shroud over the island where no one laughs or has a cup of tea and a cream cake. The feeling of disorientation is increased by the minimal use of place names and even Eva's former orchestra is the Philharmonic Orchestra which could be based anywhere - or nowhere. Human communication sputters out like the outboard engine of the boat in the final sequence, a sequence of horror and terrible sadness.
This is a masterly film shows again Bergman's preoccupation with human communication, or lack of it. It is not devoid of humour in the first half but one cannot deny it is bleak. Nevertheless, I was gripped throughout and would recommend this film.
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