Thursday, November 10, 2005

Bergman & Bergman

Ingrid Bergman. The woman who validated the closeup. Remember her hidden by the brim of a hat until slowly, gently, Bogart guides her chin up, and we see those eyes, laden with tears, and the soft, soft entreaty of that face. That face. Was the camera as comfortable in closeup with anyone before, during, or since?

Sure, it's one of the ultimate pleasures watching Bergman in varying degrees of mistiness in Casablanca. But her last film, Höstsonaten, 36 years later, cements her status as the best expressionist in movies. It was the first time the Swedish actress worked in full capacity with Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish director. Ingrid plays Charlotte, a renowned concert pianist who moves in with her daughter, whom she hasn't seen in seven years. After a grace period of politeness, the two engage in a vicious excavation of repressed emotions rubbed raw by years of separation.

Ingmar, of course, is the master of the closeup. His films are about faces, and in Autumn Sonata (the English title), he and Ingrid combine their two great talents: emoting and capturing emotion. The result is a devastating film grounded by a devastating performance, caught most of the time in extended takes and soliloquies as Ingrid acts or reacts, like when she recounts the death of her lover or when she listens to her daughter's inadequate interpretation of a Chopin prelude. We see age has taken nothing away from Ingrid, even when we're close enough to see every blemish, every pore. She still had the ability to command the magic of the screen, and Ingmar was wise enough to allow her the maximum exposure.

Casablanca to Autumn Sonata: the arc of a career in closeups.