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It is always interesting to look at those films in a director’s body of work that seem to have fallen through the cracks – the critically neglected films, the overlooked and undervalued ones. It may seem surprising that such films exist in the Bergman oeuvre, and yet The Touch, made in 1970, is an example, and The Passion of Anna, made the year before, is another.

Called A Passion in Europe, Bergman was required to change the title for American distribution. It is unclear why he chose The Passion of Anna, saying only: “Anna is at the heart of the film.” And yet Anna – a woman reeling from the loss of her husband and child in a car crash – disappears from the narrative for the middle section, and Andreas, the divorcé with whom she begins an affair, appears to be the central character. It is his path that we follow, from seemingly contented homeowner in the opening sequence, repairing the roof of his cottage, to literal disintegration. It is the same cottage in which Eva and Jan live in Shame (1968).

There is a case for considering the three films Bergman made in sequence in 1968-69 as forming a loose trilogy: Hour of the Wolf, Shame, The Passion of Anna. All are shot on Fårö, all star Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann as the central couple (the only Bergman films with both actors), and in each is heard Bach’s Partita No. 3. They are also all concerned with the precariousness of home. In each film, the relationship and connectedness of the central couple is seriously tested by intrapsychic, interpersonal and external strains, resulting in the destruction of the relationship as an emotional home.

The Passion of Anna (1969)

What is immediately striking about The Passion of Anna is that it is in colour – Bergman’s only previous such film was All These Women (1964) – and it does provide the images with a sensual warmth, especially the interiors, in contrast to the austere cottages of Hour of the Wolf and Shame.

It is certainly clear that some continuity exists between Shame, which follows a husband and wife in a remote house during a civil war, and A Passion. Bergman said that “the war of Shame is continued in A Passion”, but we must assume he is referring to the emotional battle, for there is no war in A Passion. It does, however, quote directly from Shame in the sequence of Anna’s dream: beginning on the refugee boat in which we last saw the Ullmann character at the end of Shame, arriving at land, and seeking shelter, which is refused her. Shut out, perceived to be an unwelcome intruder, the dream depicts her emotional homelessness.

Anna and Andreas do eventually become a couple, but in a very uneasy and precarious partnership. A voiceover tells us they have lived together for a year “in comparative harmony”.

As ever in Bergman, the apparent harmony is short-lived. Andreas becomes disturbed by a memory of a passionate sexual encounter with a previous lover. In the next scene, played in darkness, he tells her, “I can’t reach you. I’ve shut myself out. It’s too late. I want my solitude back.” She understands, perhaps because she inhabits the same state of mind. They can only occupy adjoining rooms. For Andreas, and perhaps also for Anna, freedom is equated with solitude and human contact is toxic.

The Passion of Anna (1969)

At the end, when both characters have had to face the reality of their murderous impulses toward each other, they are together in a car, with Anna driving. Andreas says, “I want to be free,” and again, “I want my solitude back.” Like an Ibsen character, he tells her that her notion of “living in truth” is “a ghastly deception”. He gets out of the car, and the final scene is of a solitary figure, Andreas, in long shot, framed behind a desolate swampy terrain. Anna drives away. Andreas paces back and forth across the frame, distant, forlorn and anguished. The camera slowly zooms in on him, he falls to the ground, half crouching, and the frame whitens and blurs, as Andreas disappears into the grain. He has become King Lear’s description of Edgar, “an unaccommodated man… a poor, bare forked creature”, and then nothing at all. The seemingly contented homeowner we met at the start of the film has now lost everything, including himself.

“This time he was called Andreas Winkelman,” intones the voiceover, echoing the one that opens the film – “His name is Andreas Winkelman, 48 years old” – and suggesting his plight is in some sense universal. The men von Sydow plays in these three films are not the same – or even versions of the same – character, but they do share similar anxieties which finally makes living intolerable. The emotional storm of human contact has turned Andreas to dust. A passion destroyed him.

Sight and Sound June 2022

In this issue, we join Mia Hansen-Løve on Bergman Island. Also, we speak to David Lynch and more on the digital revolution, take a trip to the movies with Joachim Trier, and hear from Terence Davies and John Waters.

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