With The Passion of Anna the art of Ingmar Bergman reaches its pinnacle. Though it is one of his rare color films, it is in every important way his most austere and elliptical work, a thing of silences and enigmas that nevertheless makes very clear the tragic vision of life that possesses its author.
Gone at last are all traces of the baroque symbolism that marked—and often marred—his early work. Gone, too, is the yearning for evidence of the presence of God in the world. Bergman has, I think, accepted His death and, indeed, seems to find that event no longer worthy of comment. His absence is now simply one of the terms of our existence….
[The island to which Bergman has retreated for four consecutive films is], of course, a psychological landscape as well as a physical one, and Bergman has gone there in the same spirit that his people have gone to that stark, spare place—out of revulsion at the meaningless cruelty of the world. There is no escape from it here, as The Passion of Anna makes abundantly clear, but it is at least somewhat reduced—to something like a manageable non-institutional human scale. Or so they permit themselves to hope. (p. 314)
We do not care [if the architect follows Anna or not at the end]. It is not important. Any action will, we know, turn out to be without resolving meaning. It will end only in the passage of more time. It is, in its quiet way, a shattering ending, brilliant both in its economy and its clarity. Bergman has, in that concluding sequence, as well as in the rest of the picture, stripped his art bare of all that is non-essential, all that offers any promise of warmth. Such hope as he extends stands outside the frame of the film. (p. 315)
We may leave The Passion of Anna more dubious than ever about man's fate, but with our faith in the possibilies of screen art—much tested in recent months—miraculously restored. (p. 316)
Richard Schickel, "'The Passion of Anna'" (originally published in Life, July 24, 1970), in his Second Sight: Notes on Some Movies, 1965–1970 (copyright © 1972 by, Richard Schickel; reprinted by permission of Simon and Schuster, a Division of Gulf & Western Corporation), Simon and Schuster, 1972, pp. 314-16.