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Spöksonaten (The Ghost Sonata)

Posted by martinteller on April 30, 2013

An idealistic young man named Arkenholtz (Jonas Malmsjö) rescues people from a collapsed building.  The following morning he meets Gubben (Jonas’s real-life father Jan Malmsjö), a wealthy and powerful man, who Arkenholtz was always told was the cause of his father’s ruin.  Gubben tells a different story and sweet-talks the lad into becoming his protégé.  He has Arkenholtz befriend the Colonel (Per Myrberg) and get himself invited to a party at his apartment that evening.  But the party will be a gathering of strange characters.  The Colonel’s wife (Gunnel Lindblom), who hides herself in a closet and has a secret history with Gubben.  The Colonel’s beautiful daughter (Elin Klinga), who spends all her time in the nursery with the hyacinths.  Their servant Bengtsson (Erland Josephson), who knows a thing or two about Gubben’s past.  The parasitic cook (Gerd Hagman) who keeps all the nourishing food for herself but refuses to leave when dismissed.  And a pair of disturbing guests (Gerthi Kulle, Anders Beckman).  When Gubben arrives uninvited, it will be a time of unmasking and tearing open old wounds, and Arkenholtz gets an education.

This was Ingmar Bergman’s fourth and final production of Strindberg’s chamber play (recorded in 2000 and aired after Bergman’s death in 2007).  The first was in 1941, but Bergman’s relationship with the play goes back even further than that, to when he was a boy and attempt to stage it with his puppet theatre.  It is obviously an influential and meaningful work to him.  It has deep and bitter veins of cynicism running through it, as Arkenholtz’s sunny idealism is trampled by the dark secrets laid bare before him, the hateful and venomous streak that taints humanity.

The staging is dark and minimal, creating an undefined space where people appear to simply emerge from blackness.  The play makes several references to supernatural beings — many mentions of “ghosts”, Lindblom’s character is known only as “The Mummy”, the cook is called a vampire — and functions with a dreamlike rhythm and logic.  It’s certainly not a tale of gritty realism, but not entirely surreal either.  It’s a gloomy and unsettling space, and the play is likely an influence on The Silence.

The actors are all quite good (except I found Örjan Ramsberg rather broad and annoying as Gubben’s manservant) and it’s wonderful to see old Bergman players like Josephson, Lindblom and the elder Malmsjö.  As always, Bergman’s theatrical works are less gripping to me than his cinematic works, but the camerawork is reasonably dynamic (and makes use of ghostly superimpositions).  A little hard to grasp at times, but maintains interest with its strong performances and very Bergman-y themes.  Rating: Very Good (81)


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