Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Passion of Anna

The Passion of Anna (1970), currently being revived at Film Forumis a deceptive title to the extent that you think it subscribes to a classical religious form. The life on the island on which Andreas Winkelman (Max von Sydow), a geologist and intellectual, who has also been a convict (having been arrested for drunk driving and embezzlement), is indeed medieval, a primitive isolated world that takes one back to the suffering and cruelty Bergman’s Knight (again played by von Sydow) endures in the wake of his return from the crusades in The Seventh Seal. The Passion of Anna even reprises the chessboard. But the closest thing to the form of the passion play is the famous monologue where Anna (Liv Ullmann) recounts the accident in which her husband and child are killed and the camera holds to her face. Yet there’s also something aloof about it. She describes the scene as if it were happening to someone else. The film might have actually been called The Dispassion of Anna. There’s the period of discovery in civil cases when both parties have access to pertinent information and that’s the mode of the movie’s disquisition. When the viewer first encounters Anna, her limp is the most noticeable thing about her. Then when she leaves her purse in Winkleman’s house, Andreas reads a letter in particular the words “physical and psychical acts of violence” which will be reiterated throughout the film. Anna’s husband, it turns out, was leaving her even before the tragedy. The fourth wall is broken down so that the actors can be interviewed about the characters they play. Ullman says about Anna, “That’s what’s so hard about being a believer you expect others to have the same faith.” And then there are the sounds, Andreas' breathing at the beginning, the ringing of phones, the foghorn and the constant ticking of clocks. The famous image of the captured Viet Cong who’s shot by the South Vietnamese general (an iconic piece of newsreel footage from the time in which the film was made) is interspersed with a series of horrible crimes against animals that inspire further acts of vengeance on the part of the islanders. Elis (Erland Josephson) and his wife Eva (Bibi Andersson) are the other couple and Bergman doesn’t let us know that Anna and Andreas are actually in a relationship until Andreas has already cheated on the feckless Eva, to whom he has also lied. Bit by bit Bergman builds his case, in which a certain degree of sadism results from an intrinsic lack of connection.

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