Sunday, May 06, 2007

Torment (1944)

Even Ingmar Bergman had to pass through the juvenilia phase, as the screenplay for this film shows. Bergman's first produced work (directed not by him but by Alf Sjöberg) is a mediocre potboiler about the adversarial relationship between a cruel, apparently manic-depressive Latin professor (Stig Järrel) and a rebellious student (Alf Kjellin). Torment contains all the grumpiness, cynicism and distrust in human nature that Bergman would later plumb to great effect in his career, but the sharp observational powers and yearning for unattainable transcendence have yet to flower, so what we're left with is a sour film about sour people doing sour things. Järrel's noir-inspired direction, all heavy shadows and canted angles, at least lends an air of visual inspiration to the film and provides an interesting contrast to the hard-eyed naturalism that would characterize the forthcoming directorial work from Bergman. Furthermore, the acting is pretty good, with Mai Zetterling especially worthy in a role that would defeat many actresses. The writing, however, is fatally uninspired; at this point, Bergman had little to say beyond, "Jesus, I hated school." The spark that would light the career of one of cinema's most important auteurs, apparently, was yet to come.

Grade: C


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