Thursday, November 4, 2010

From the Life of Marionettes

Ingmar Bergman, 1980, 95m, Germany

Suicides are generally a complete mystery since the chief witness has disappeared. The chain of events and the mental processes which finally precipitate the drastic action remains forever a matter of conjecture and surmise. Marilyn Monroe is a case in point. Murder can be subject to closer scrutiny, both from the forensic as well as the psychological viewpoint.

This is a movie with perhaps too heavy a baggage of psychiatric jargon and narcissistic introspection. The film opens with the seemingly motiveless murder of a street-walker named Katarina by Peter Egermann, who is having having a disturbed relationship with his wife, also named Katarina.

The film takes an objective view of the cataclysmic event examining it from different angles: his interactions with his wife in the preceding period; his dreams, in one of which he kills his wife; interviews with the psychiatrist, who also is emotionally entangled with wife Katrina; interviews with Peter's mother before and after the event; the eloquent outpourings of a gay family friend and of course the omniscient director-narrator's observations..

Why does Peter Egermann do it? The course of events is unshapened even in the last fifteen minutes. He wants to run away from the prostitute's den but the doors are locked. It is as though the floodgates of his lifelong turmoils suddenly creak apart--was it a glance, a word, a gesture or simply the spontanous consummation of an inner process that triggered the sudden eruption of violence?

Ingmar Bergman was in "tax-exile" in Germany when he made this German language film. Bergman is a person with appreciation for the complexities of the mind, specially in it's less wholesome manifestations. As Tolstoi says in the opening lines of Anna Karenina, misery is a far more heterogeneous commodity than happiness. Bergman experienced a sadistic upbringing under a bigoted father. With his precocious intellect and artistic talent he rocketed to dizzy success early in life. Thus he was uniquely placed to chronicle some of the more exotic blooms of human torment.

Rarely does a shaft of light penetrate into the dark landscapes of Bergman's inner world. The only redeeming feature is the privilege and power of articulation his characters enjoy to endlessly dissect themselves. But they are talking into the void, and rarely do they make mutual connection. As Peter Egermann says, they are mangled by surfeit.

One more litany of despair from the dour Swede.

Janet Jaslin NY Times

No comments: