Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hour of the Wolf

The Bergman world exists here in all it's hermetic essence, an island, a couple and wind swept shores. Johan, an artist, a painter, has vanished, his wife looks at the camera and speaks to us, after we hear the noises of film making, the directors voice too. Johan has vanished but Alma will continue to stay on the island, why has Johan vanished, she does not understand. Told from her perspective and his dagbok, Hour of the Wolf traces Johan's descent into paranoia and madness. He sees figures and hears people talk to him and follow him. It is a descent into a psychotic world, which his wife begins to share with him at times. Often he is chased by people, talks to them. Are these visitations real? And then a visit from a man who supposedly owns the island and an invitation for dinner at his castle. The Gothic ingredients are thus complete. But not before that a visit from a past lover, Veronica Vogler. She will be at the castle too, he is told.

The castle dinner hosted by the rich family is a great favourite of mine. With the camera panning in arc like swishes, Johan drinks and suffers, Alma sees him drink and suffer, and later, he defends the creed of the true artist. Back home, Johan tries to kill Alma and Alma flees. Johan is at the castle again where he tries making love to Veronica's corpse, who wakes up and breaks into hysterical laughter. Johan is then attacked by the castle occupants, and in true horror style, nibbled at. Alma later on faces the camera and wonders if she could have done more. Johan runs away from the castle, and vanishes on the way. Alma helps construct the events leading to Johan' disintegration.

The movie, I have read has autobiographical tones. Bergman and Liv Ullman who stars as Alma were in a long relationship. The relation was tense and Bergman had his moments of alienation from his partner. The movie restores some of his artistic concerns on to the screen. How faithful can an artist be to others whilst being faithful to his creed? The person living close to another person starts taking on the characteristics of the loved one, is a constant refrain in this movie. Alma asks that question many times. What should be sacrificed for the artist and what is the nature of this sacrifice? We wonder as Alma does. Alma starts seeing a 216 year old woman who later on says she is in her seventies. Does Alma completely begin to identify with her husbands' inner life? She starts reading his diary and to what extent does she allow herself to be swayed on to his beliefs? I s that a voluntary act and how voluntary is it? Does Alma have much choice?IT is clear that some events from Johans' past haunt and trouble him. He sees himself in a homoerotic situation with a young boy whom he dashes against the rocks too. All seems elusive.

One of the most erotic and abiding images in this movie personally for me is when Johan, sitting on his own trying to paint feels a presence. From the left side of the screen we see a figure approach. Then we see legs, a feminine figure and as she gets closer, we see feet, as they approach and she sits down near Johan, and then bares her breast to him. It is Veronica Vogler, played by the hauntingly beautiful Ingrid Thulin. There are some beautiful scenes on this windswept island and the castle scenes are enacted with a lot of Hollywood panache and perhaps a parody of the genre. Max Von Sydow plays the tormented artist. I saw him recently in a Di Caprio movie and thought he still is magnificent. Ullman plays the wife and tormented soul par excellence as usual. She bares lets you on to her though there are moments of understanding. Her seductive charms seemed to be lost on Johan who was lost in a different world.

Hour of the Wolf is a movie that has the usual Bergman characteristics and characters. It may also be very close to him personally as his expression of his own troubles as an artist. It is beautifully filmed and demands more than passing attention.

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