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Mr. Sleeman Is Coming

Posted by martinteller on January 7, 2014

Anne-Marie (Bibi Andersson) is an adolescent orphan who lives with her two elderly aunts, Mina (Jullan Kindahl) and Bina (Naima Wifstrand).  The family receives an allowance from county chairman Mr. Sleeman (Yngve Nordwall), the former guardian of Anne-Marie’s mother.  Sleeman is middle-aged and walks with a pronounced limp.  When the aunts request a larger allowance, he refuses… but he has another solution to their financial worries.  He will relieve them of the burden of Anne-Marie by marrying her.  Anne-Marie spends a fretful night waiting for Sleeman’s arrival, trying to find comfort in the arms of her beloved hunter Walther (Max Von Sydow).

Ingmar Bergman was a busy man in 1957.  In between directing two of his most famous masterpieces, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, he directed this, his first television production.  It’s a 43-minute film based on a 1917 one-act play by Hjalmar Bergman (no relation, as far as I know).  It can’t help feeling rather slight by comparison, but contains surprising depth.  It takes place almost entirely in Anne-Marie’s living room, but the cinematography involves a variety of expressive shots and climaxes with an artful series of fades between the arrival of Sleeman and Anne-Marie’s solemn waiting.  The aunts remain a bit too cartoonish throughout, almost like characters in a fairy tale… but Andersson expresses a fevered array of emotions, and Sleeman himself strikes an ambiguous presence.  The ending is disarming in its ambiguity of tone, with Sleeman repeating lines to Anne-Marie that she had heard the previous evening from Walther.  Is this a statement that Walther is as phony as the rest of them, or that perhaps life with Sleeman will have its own sort of joy?  I can’t tell after one viewing.

Andersson and Sydow are terrific together.  I just adore Max Von Sydow when he’s being upbeat and goofy, and it’s a shame that he’s usually associated with such a dour persona.  The film is an easy watch not just for its brevity but also its natural flow.  I didn’t expect much from this, but some artful and unusual touches elevate it above the typical televised play.  Rating: Good (75)


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