Flicka och hyacinter (Girl With Hyacinths)
Posted by martinteller on July 17, 2014
The pianist Dagmar Brink (Eva Henning) is found dead in her apartment, having hung herself from a hook in the ceiling. With no close friends or relatives, she bequeathed all of her belongings to her neighbors: Anders Wikmar (Ulf Palme), a writer, and his wife Britt (Birgit Tengroth). Anders feels compelled to investigate the circumstances of her suicide. He tries to track down everyone who knew her, starting only with a portrait found on her dresser. In his investigation, he talks to an alcoholic artist (Anders Ek), an actress friend (Marianne Löfgren), a banker who may or may not be her father (Gösta Cederlund), a former husband (Keve Hjelm), and a womanizing musician (Karl-Arne Holmsten). Anders believes he’s getting closer to the truth, but his wife has instincts that surpass his.
I can’t recall why I put this on my watchlist, which is always kind of an exciting feeling. I have no idea what to expect. As a Swedish film of the 50’s, it’s likely that I was attracted to one of the many Ingmar Bergman connections. Anders Ek was a recurring figure in Bergman’s films, most notably as the brutish monk-turned-thief in The Seventh Seal. Palme, Cederlund and Holmsten appeared in some of his earlier works (usually not the very good ones). Henning was in Prison and played the lead in the very impressive Thirst. And then there’s director Hasse Ekman. Not only was he married to Henning at the time, he also appeared in the same two Bergman movies with her (as well as Sawdust and Tinsel a few years later). Ekman was also a friendly rival to Bergman, and apparently for a while there some debate over which of them was Sweden’s greatest director. Lastly, it’s worth noting that Bergman himself called this movie “an absolute masterpiece… perfect”.
While I wouldn’t call it “perfect”, it is really good. The tone is very noir, with its deep shadows and expressive angles, nightclubs and tortured personalities, alcoholism and suicide, and exploration of postwar darkness. It also touches on a taboo subject that I can’t name without giving away the ending, but it’s a topic that no American film of the time would touch with a 10-foot pole. It comes as quite a surprise, and makes a perfect ending to an already intriguing picture. The multiple-flashback structure (not only common to noir but also highly reminiscent of Citizen Kane… Welles is said to be a major influence on Ekman) is pulled off really nicely, with the fractured chronology skillfully managed so as not to become too confusing… and also beautifully tying events together.
The camerawork is graceful and thoughtful. Just before the body is discovered, the camera — following a maid routinely going about her business — casually passes by the shadow of Dagmar’s dangling legs. The camera doesn’t linger on it, a display of morbid nonchalance that is more shocking than a held shot would be. Another Bergman connection: cinematographer Göran Strindberg had previously done gorgeous work on Music in Darkness, A Ship Bound for India and the aforementioned Prison (also Sjöberg’s beautiful Miss Julie). It’s terrific photography… complemented quite well by the melancholy, jazzy score by Erland von Koch (himself a frequent Bergman collaborator in the 40’s).
The movie could perhaps use a little more cynical bite. It touches on Sweden’s role (or non-role) in the war with brief comments by Anne-Marie Brunius (as a figure who was present the night before Dagmar’s suicide) and a speech by Hjelm where he states his admiration for the Nazis, while proclaiming himself not to be a sympathizer. Perhaps for a Swedish audience there would have been more subtext that I can’t pick up on, but it seems like the subject is only lightly examined. Nonetheless, it’s a compelling story that unfolds skillfully. It seems to come to an anticlimax until the shocking (for its time, though no less effective now) last minute revelation. The performances are all excellent, particularly in the scenes between Henning and Ek. And there’s quite a bit of charm to the interactions between Palme and Tengroth (I would have liked at least one more scene with them together, actually). I hope to see more by Hasse Ekman. Rating: Very Good (88)