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With: Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Max von Sydow, Erland Josephson, David Carradine, Gunnar Björnstrand
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Swedish with English subtitles
Running Time: 500
Date: 18/03/2013
IMDB

The Ingmar Bergman Special Edition DVD Collection (2004)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Persona-to-Person

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Buy The Ingmar Bergman Special Edition DVD Collection on DVD.

Ingmar Bergman's career seems impossible today; a highly personal, angst-ridden filmmaker, his pictures contained subtitles and he nevertheless drew large American audiences and earned several Oscar nominations and three Oscars (two for Best Foreign Language Film and one Thalberg Award).

It was a special time, when audiences enjoyed seeing challenging films and welcomed a change of pace. People often mourn the loss of those times, wondering why there aren't more Bergmans today. There are, but no one goes to see them.

At least we can savor five Bergman films one more time, thanks to this new box set.

Ingmar Bergman's most actively astonishing film, Persona (1966), is also his hardest to pin down. After a prologue of seemingly random images, ranging from the confusing to the disturbing, we begin the story of an actress (Liv Ullmann) who suddenly stops speaking while onstage. She's entrusted to the care of a young, beautiful nurse (Bibi Andersson) and sent to a remote seaside cottage to recover. While there, the nurse begins opening up and spilling her soul to the actress, eventually becoming frustrated and finally winning the upper hand in an intensely psychological power struggle. In one scene, Andersson describes a sexual encounter between herself, a girlfriend, and two men on a beach, and it's so vivid you might imagine you've seen it played out. Bergman continually reminds us that we're watching a film by inserting phony "broken" splices and such. He also plays upon the fact that the two women look very much alike by pushing them together in his shots, overlapping their faces and even superimposing one over the other. One clue may lie in the young boy who rises from a table and looks directly into the camera. Bergman then cuts to his point of view and we see a giant blurry face watching him. Could it be us, the viewers, entering this fierce and bizarre contest of wills? Regardless, Persona is one of Bergman's greatest works and an absolute must-see.

The Persona DVD comes with a featurette, interviews with Ullmann and Andersson, an audio commentary track by Bergman's American biographer Marc Gervais, a photo gallery (with some of the most striking stills ever shot on any movie set) and the theatrical trailer.

Hour of the Wolf (1968) is the closest Bergman ever came to making a flat-out horror film, full of ghosts and shock-cuts. Max Von Sydow stars as a reclusive artist who retreats with his wife (Liv Ullmann) to a remote island to work. Abrasive and creepy "neighbors" begin to bother him, though they're all just spooks -- phantoms of his mind. Unfortunately, the artist's wife begins to see them too. Some of the images, such as one of a young boy staring at Von Sydow as he's fishing, will haunt you long afterwards. The film is told from Ullmann's point of view, after the artist is dead. She speaks directly to the camera, and "film crew" noises can be heard during the opening credits, reminding us from the start that it's only a movie.

The Hour of the Wolf DVD comes with another Gervais audio commentary track, a featurette, The Search for Sanity, an interview with Ullmann and actor Erland Josephson, photo galleries and a trailer.

Shame (1968) again plunks Von Sydow and Ullmann -- this time as classical musicians -- on a remote island, but this time war breaks out and the couple must learn to re-adjust their beliefs and values in a time of crisis. I confess I didn't make it all the way through this one; it's pretty harrowing and depressing and I don't like war movies as a general rule.

The Shame DVD comes with another Gervais audio commentary track, a featurette, The Search for Humanity, an interview with Ullmann, photo galleries and a trailer.

Shot in color, The Passion of Anna (1969) yet again takes place on a remote island, where Andreas (Max Von Sydow) lives a solitary existence, until widowed Anna (Liv Ullmann) comes along. She tries to convince herself that she had a happy marriage, but Andreas knows differently. When Anna accidentally leaves her purse behind, Andreas reads a letter from her husband attempting to end the marriage. Nevertheless, Anna moves in with him and the cycle repeats. Bibi Andersson adds another layer as a confused married woman who has a brief fling with Andreas. Strangely, Bergman occasionally cuts away from the action with on-camera interviews of the actors explaining their characters' motivations. I generally prefer Bergman's black-and-white films, but Sven Nykvist's color cinematography makes Ullmann's blue eyes a thing to behold.

This letterboxed, subtitled disc includes a commentary track, stills, a trailer, an "audio book" read by Elliot Gould, and more.

The Serpent's Egg (1977) was Bergman's only English-language film, and it's also one of his most bitterly depressing and impenetrable. David Carradine (Kill Bill - Vol. 2) stars as a Jewish acrobat stranded in Berlin just before the rise of the Nazis and Liv Ullmann plays his sister-in-law. Alternately shot in dull grays and garish colors, this is a really unpleasant film. Fortunately, Carradine provides an interesting commentary track.

A sixth supplemental disc includes Intermezzo (2002), a conversation with Ingmar Bergman, a 1970 interview with Bergman, a documentary on cinematographer Nykvist, a new featurette, Faro Island Mystique, about Bergman's island, a collection of print articles about the master filmmaker and more photo galleries. All five titles are available separately, but the sixth disc is available only in the box set.

Overall, this new six-disc box set isn't quite as good as the Criterion Collection's four-disc box set from last year (Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, The Silence and the making of Winter Light), but none of the previously-released films is as good as Persona.

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