Writer-director Ingmar Bergman’s provocative 1963 Swedish classic challenged the censor at the time for being sexually explicit. In the UK, the chief censor was in holiday when the film was approved. The controversy over the film resulted in a much larger audience than usual for a film by an unimpressed Bergman, who said it had attracted the most unwanted viewers of any of his films.
Ingrid Thulin and Gunnel Lindblom star as frustrated, emotionally estranged sisters Ester and Anna, who stay over at a hotel in a city somewhere in central Europe, where tanks are rumbling by outside and the country is on the brink of war. The city’s name is Timoka, as indicated on the train’s speaker and by Anna. Bergman found the word Timoka in a book in Estonian on his wife Käbi Laretei’s bookshelf. She told him it means ‘belonging to the hangman’. The Slavonic-sounding language in the movie is created by Bergman.
The intellectual and seriously ill Ester (Thulin) has lesbian fantasies and makes love to herself, while sensuous younger Anna (Lindblom) abandons her gloomy 10-year-old son Johan (Jörgen Lindström) while she makes love to a bartender (Birger Malmsten).
Bergman’s once infamous film is claustrophobic and chilly, yet commendably bracing, with its minimal dialogue of only 1,710 words, striking settings and intense wordless actions. Sven Nykvist’s cinematography and the Bach music give it a ravishing surface.
It is the conclusion of Bergman’s film trilogy about faith that starts with Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light.
Bergman was inspired by his own radio play The City, from Sigfrid Siwertz’s short story The Dark Goddess of Victory, Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra and his recurring dream about a huge city.
The Silence was submitted to the film censorship board of Sweden in July 1963 and was passed without cuts, leading to intense public controversy. The complete film includes a number of brief but controversial sex scenes, showing nudity, female masturbation, urination and a couple making out on the seats of a murky cabaret theatre, plus some strong language.
In the US, it was presented as a semi-pornographic film with a quote from the Daily News: ‘On incest, self-defilement and nymphomania, this Bergman latest is the most shocking movie I have ever seen. I could not believe my eyes.’
© Derek Winnert 2016 Classic Movie Review 3932
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