Critics' picks: New DVDs

Ingmar Bergman fans will take pleasure in `Torment'

March 25, 2007|By Michael Sragow

EARLY BERGMAN -- Eclipse, from the Criterion Collection / 5-disc set, $69.95.

Early Bergman, a 5-disc anthology of Swedish master Ingmar Bergman's first half-decade in movies, hits the ground at a gallop on Disc 1 by re-introducing audiences to Alf Sjoberg's Torment (1944).

It makes other films about teen rebellion look and sound like campfire tales.

Torment, Bergman's first produced screenplay, conjures an emotional conflagration out of three conflicted characters: a romantic senior at a Stockholm prep school, Jan-Erik Widgren (Alf Kjellin); the vulnerable shopgirl, Bertha Olsson (Mai Zetterling), who becomes his lover; and a sadistic Latin teacher called Caligula (Stig Jarrel), who threatens both of them.

Director Sjoberg captures, with equal sensitivity and flair, the ecstasy of Widgren's furtive love for Olsson - and the terror of its collision with the perverted Caligula. Along the way, Sjoberg and Bergman make social nuance electric. In a cushy household such as Widgren's, a demerit for using a cheat sheet in a Latin class is a stigma, even if the boy denies the charge. In a seedy flat like Olsson's, a proper gentleman with improper fantasies, like Caligula, can appall a declasse girl yet still harass her with impunity.

A pseudo-patriarchal figure in an authoritarian society, Caligula seems untouchable - until Widgren stuns him with fierce accusations and a physical blow.

Kjellin is splendid: the picture of a roused, then agonized consciousness. Zetterling's portrait of a ravaged sensual innocent ranks with that of another great Bergman, Ingrid, in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941). She's as sexy as she is heartbreaking. And Jarrel's Caligula unveils a creepy, inchoate core that's just as repulsive as his power plays. Torment is both a haunting love story and a chilling horror movie. Instead of bloody catharses, it gives us tingling moments of truth.

Special features

Early Bergman is the first DVD box from "Eclipse," a new series produced by the celebrated Criterion Collection. Releasing too-little-seen movies from major filmmakers in handsome editions, this new line eschews extras and pristine digital restorations. The rare movies themselves provide all the extra value a disc set needs. Following Torment in Early Bergman are such milestones in Bergman's directing career as his first movie, Crisis (1946), his atypical working-class saga, Port of Call (1948), an ambitious marital drama, Thirst (1949), and To Joy (1949), whose hero, a violinist, struggles with the knowledge that he'll never be a soloist. Still, Torment towers over the rest of them.

ALSO ANTICIPATED

THE JUDI DENCH COLLECTION --BBC Video--8-disc set, $99.98

Dame Judi Dench embodies the best of contemporary British acting. Like Daniel Craig, Helen Mirren and Clive Owen, she subsumes her literacy and diction into spontaneous and poetry-charged behavior, finding her footing beneath, behind and just around the corners of the stage directions and the text. This eight-disc set unearths buried treasures from four decades of Dench's BBC-TV work, ranging from a Feydeau farce, Keep an Eye on Amelie (1973), and a raunchy black comedy, Absolute Hell (1991), to two celebrated productions of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard (1962, 1981). But the peak is Elijah Moshinsky's 1986 production of Ibsen's Ghosts, costarring Michael Gambon, Kenneth Branagh and Natasha Richardson. As a woman who must face the truth that the sins of her husband have been visited on her son, Dench finds the harrowing beauty in a suffering intelligence.

michael.sragow@baltsun.com

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