Ingmar Bergman

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Robert E. Lauder

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Ingmar Bergman's most personal work and one of his most profound and provocative efforts, Face to Face is probably also the Swedish artist's greatest film. A striking synthesis of his previous work and rich in images and themes, the movie will stimulate analyses reiterating familiar interpretations of Bergman's vision. We can expect Face to Face to be discussed in terms of the director's view of women, as an artistic exercise through which Bergman practices self-therapy, as a phenomenology of heterosexual relations and communications, and as a commentary on the silence of God. Though each of these approaches can shed light on Bergman's artistic aims (and each has been helpful with a particular film in the past), none is sufficiently radical to address Bergman's philosophical questions or to encounter his latest work "face to face"—that is, at the profound level at which it was conceived and created….

Of the four interpretive approaches mentioned earlier, Bergman's vision of women will probably receive the most attention…. Bergman's primary preoccupation is, however, with humanity rather than specifically with masculinity or feminity. Though some critics may find in Bergman's work a persistent hostility toward women, the truth of the matter is that the filmmaker is involved in a love-hate relationship with women and with men—and indeed with himself.

Bergman's love-hate relationship with himself may encourage the suggestion that he is merely using the cinema to work out his own hang-ups. Of this film Bergman has said: "Making Face to Face has been the most powerful experience of my life. Working on this picture has meant having to live parts of my life over and over again. For months I was like a piece of celluloid, actually a part of the film." Elements of Bergman's life crop up in the film…. But as the film grows more personal, it becomes not private but universal. The film's gibes at psychiatry and psychology indicate that Bergman's preoccupation is at a deeper level than psychological self-analysis.

Though the problem of personal communication looms large in Face to Face, Bergman's probing goes beyond both heterosexual and homosexual relations. (p. 936)

Though also inadequate as a key to Face to Face, interpretations based on the silence of God are closest to Bergman's deepest questions. The awareness of God's absence is a theme strongly present in every Bergman film, but since Winter Light (1962) the Swedish director has focused less directly on the specifically theological…. Make no mistake: Bergman's probings are still metaphysical and religious (rather than specifically theological) in the sense that they deal with the most ultimate questions, with what Tillich called "matters of ultimate concern." What does reality mean? What is the significance of human life? Does death make human existence absurd? Whether center stage is occupied by Jenny or a 14th century knight or a Lutheran minister or a married couple or Bergman himself, the director's questions cut to the universal experience of persons….

[Face to Face] could serve as a summary of his work. What is new in Face to Face is the clear presence of hope. The loving presence of Jacobi and the bond between her grandparents provide Jenny with sufficient insight into reality to enable her to continue living. (p. 937)

For this cinematic exploration of love, in which he examines Jenny's passage through "death" to new life, Bergman has taken his title from a section of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (I Cor. 13: 12: "For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face"), in which Paul seeks to describe the fulfillment that lovers will experience when they pass through death and encounter Love. With his own interpretation of resurrection and its meaning for human existence, Bergman continues his painfully honest exploration of the mystery of love and death and an odyssey that is the most personal, provocative and profound in contemporary cinema. (p. 938)

Robert E. Lauder, "A Hint of Hope in Bergman's Odyssey," in The Christian Century (copyright 1976 Christian Century Foundation; reprinted by permission from the October 27, 1976 issue of The Christian Century), Vol. XCIII, No. 34, October 27, 1976, pp. 936-38.

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Rev. Robert E. Lauder


Diane M. Borden