Ingmar Bergman season at the Tyneside Cinema

Joe Holloran discusses the Tyneside cinema's Ingmar Bergman season

Joe Holloran
14th December 2017
Image: Wikimedia Commons
This month Tyneside Cinema showed two films by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman as part of the Luminaries feature. The films on show were Virgin Spring (1960) and Winter Light (1963). Both films are quintessentially that of a great auteur.

A director of such vision and philosophic intrigue that his work is in many ways just an audio-visual extension of the writings of Sartre and Cioran. I can think of no other director in the history of cinema who tackles moral, philosophical and other ‘Big Questions’ issues as well as Bergman. So, it seems a natural choice then for Tyneside to show his films at this most joyous of seasons. For those of us who like our crackers and flimsy hats with a side of existentialist decay.

Even if you are someone who has never watched any of his films, you will know of his work. His visual style is so iconic that it has been used countless times in other popular media; The Simpsons, South Park and even Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey. The representation of Death in that film is just a comedic pastiche of Death in The Seventh Seal, only substituting chess with Twister. His films are best taken one at a time. A binge watch may result in side effects of melancholy, sighing and thinking oneself to be French.

The two films in question are among Bergman’s most overtly religious. The Virgin Spring tells the story of a young Christian women in medieval Sweden and her encounter with beings of pagan-Norse mythology. The enemy. The film follows Karin as she challenges her notions of good and evil, right and wrong and the life that she knows.

It, like all Bergman’s films, is stark, minimalist and bleak, while also being expansive and visually stunning. More so than any of his other films, The Virgin Spring takes existentialism and its sister themes through a more youthful eye. One both naïve and more open to change. The contrast between this youthful openness and the rapturous faith of her father makes for story of great emotional power.

The second film on show is more well known, but no less worth of a second viewing. Winter Light is set in contemporary Sweden. It too details a man going through an existential crisis, brought about by being opened up to the wider world. The massacres in Spain during the Civil War, the dropping of the A-Bomb and dwindling church attendances cause our protagonist Tomas to lose his certainty. With it, go his ability to look beyond the horrors of the world around him and to seek a new way. A phrase uttered to Tomas by Algot, the devout disabled church organist, near the film’s end seems to sum up Bergman’s obsession and conflict. He asks why God did not help his son on the cross, and why more emphasis is placed on the humans who betrayed him. He asks, “Isn’t God’s silence worse?” To which Tomas pauses before replying simply “Yes”.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

For more information about future Bergman films at the Tyneside, follow the link below:

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