Ingmar Bergman: Thirst (1949) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Ingmar Bergman: Thirst (1949)

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Each Tuesday Andrew will be going through every available film of Ingmar Bergman.

Andrew COMMENTARYWatching Thirst, much like last weeks Port of Call, is a bit difficult.  Because of my familiarity with Bergman's work, it's difficult to judge the film on its own merits instead of comparing it to the rest of his work.  This wouldn't be so hard if there weren't so many shots that he would recreate, or reference to, in later films.  Still, Thirst is a mature step forward for Bergman where he has abandoned most of his theatrical impulses and just lets the silence take over.  I am incredibly grateful of this restraint and it enhances the experiences with his films quite a bit.

First some good news, Bergman has completely abandoned any traces of jazz with this movie.  As much as I enjoy the smooth stylizing of the saxophone, it has always felt particularly out of place with his bleak worldview.  Thankfully, it will be almost thirty years before we hear any sort of jazz again, and it will be in one of his worst movies.

Thirst deals with the passions that drive us and uses a fractured timeline to see how those passions work themselves into the lives of the characters.  Eva Henning and Birger Malmsten star as Ruth and Bertil, a couple that lives in near silence.  The wallpaper is decaying in their cramped apartment, and the only light that gets in is from the occasional automobile passing by.  Their lives are insular, silent, and yet they still lust for the people they used to be.

Bergman and Gunnar Fischer make great use of the cramped confines.

The film flashes back and forward multiple times from this apartment.  We see that Ruth had an affair that left her needing an abortion (the third such instance that has shown up as a plot point in Bergman's early films and how that strained her relationship with Bertil.  After spending a lot of time in the cramped apartment, they decide to trade their home for an equally cramped train car for a trip across post-World War Two Europe in the hopes that it will inject some joy into their relationship.

The plot deals with a lot of the tropes that Bergman has become known for, and his love of strong female characters continues with Ruth.  Her life as a dancer left her with a tough skin to withstand the casual sexual glare of the many men in her life.  Bergman still hasn't quite figure out how to write strong male characters, but Bertil is the one of the first one's that engender a lot of empathy from the audience.

The visuals in Thirst are fantastic.  Aside from a strange opening shot of water pouring down a drain, accompanied by a heavily overbearing string score, the camera swoops and twirls about the two as they play little games with their relationship.  Bergman makes the most of the cramped corridors and sense of death in the apartment, and transports it nicely to the train when the couple realizes that they can't escape from their problems.  The cinematography still isn't to the level that Sven Nykvist would contribute.  But Gunnar Fischer continues to be an excellent second best in understanding Bergman's sensibilities.

Slow, ponderous moments shove Bergman away from his theatrical beginnings.

Then there is the matter of the many scenes and shots that will be referenced in later Bergman films.  After the aforementioned drain shot, Bergman's camera settles on a lone boat facing the wide open sea that he will recall in Through A Glass Darkly.  Ruth and Bertil also bears many similarities to Bergman's iconic couple in Scenes From A Marriage, Marianne and Johan.  Then there is the matter of the plot, which is so similar to The Silence that Thirst feels like a test run in many ways.

But I digress.  I am very impressed with Thirst.  On it's own it's a fascinating look at a marriage that has suffered through the strains of war only to come out the other end wanting more.  There are many moments you can feel the sweaty lust of the couple radiating off the screen, enticing us further into their hellish home.  It works magnificently on its chosen level, and serves as a great precursor to some of Bergman's greatest works.

Next week is one of Bergman's lighter, yet emotionally resonant, To Joy.

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The Films of Ingmar Bergman

Thirst (1949)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman.
Written by Birgit Tengroth.
Starring Eva Henning and Birger Malmsten.

Posted by Andrew

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