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Ett drömspel (A Dream Play)

Posted by martinteller on May 4, 2013

Agnes (Ingrid Thulin), daughter of the goddess Indra, has come to Earth to learn about what it means to be human.  She meets many people in her journey.  The figures that guide her most are Alfred (Uno Henning), an officer who becomes a doctor; Axel (Allan Edwall), the lawyer that she weds, and the poet (Olof Widgren) who may be the author of her dreams.  What she observes and experiences makes her pity mankind.

This was Ingmar Bergman’s first production of Strindberg’s surreal play, he would try it again three more times.  Strindberg was of course very dear to Bergman and instrumental in crafting his own artistic sensibilities.  This production fits in well with Bergman’s other work of the 1960’s, when he was doing more experimental films like The Silence, Persona, The Passion of Anna and The Rite.  Strindberg’s play, as the title clearly spells out, has a dream logic to it, with no regard for time or space.  Characters weave in and out of the story.  Days pass in seconds, to speed up Alfred’s wait for his beloved.  Agnes is abruptly thrust in new situations, as when she suddenly finds herself wed — unhappily — to Axel.

Although there are fleeting moments of humor, what Agnes encounters over and over again is suffering.  Drudgery, injustice, bitterness, envy, heartbreak, doubt, disappointment, resentment, guilt, and fear.  Although in the end there is a Buddhist acceptance of conflict (one man’s joy is another’s suffering, the agony of ecstasy and the ecstasy of agony) it provides little comfort.  Our lot in life is to suffer, ever pursuing an imaginary happiness until the release of death.

Cheerful stuff, eh?  It’s pretty weighty for sure, and often too heavy-handed.  “Dream” narratives can be rather off-putting as well.  In the hands of someone like David Lynch they can be fascinating, but too often they’re either too literal or too surreal.  This one occasionally leans a bit too literal, but for the most part it holds together.  As for the presentation, it’s by far the most “cinematic” of Bergman’s television productions that I’ve seen.  The lighting is stark and beautiful, and he uses the format to smooth out scene transitions that would be awkward on stage.  It would be tricky to pull off the location jumps in a theater, but with editing it feels as natural as a dream does.  Thulin’s performance is not the best I’ve seen from her, but I blame the heaviness of many of the lines.  There are times when we see her greatness shine through, as in her bitter spats with Edwall.

This seems like one that would grow on me with more familiarity.  It’s a very dense play that’s not always easy to process.  Rating: Good (77)


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