Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Devil's Wanton (Bergman, 1949)

Of the twenty-odd Ingmar Bergman films that I have seen, The Devil’s Wanton is the earliest, made in the director’s early thirties. Although over half a century of masterful filmmaking lay ahead, this early effort shows Bergman already with a firm handle on cinema’s possibilities and a clear vision of the themes he wants to convey. Made just a few years after the Hiroshima bombing, it is a deeply pessimistic film that suggests that hell may very well exist – right here on earth. Despite the gloominess of his theme, Bergman playfully bookends his tale with a beginning and an ending involving a group of filmmakers pondering the creation of the film seen in the middle. It is a story of a young prostitute, her accidental pregnancy and the way in which the child’s father goes about covering his tracks. Bergman’s ability to write challenging, captivating roles for women is unparalleled and the one he has created for lead actress Doris Svedlund is no exception. Standout scenes include a dream sequence involving a forest made up of human beings rather than trees and a tense scene in which a man notifies his wife that both of them are going to commit suicide whether she likes it or not. Although the prostitute’s tragic life is something that has really occurred within the universe of the film, we see the on-screen filmmakers conclude that such a work could never be made because it would leave viewers with a question too unbearable to ponder. Of course Bergman not only poses that question in this film, but would do so in numerous other films over the course of his illustrious career. The Devil’s Wanton is a worthy entry in a deep filmography and one that will doubtless become more readily available to film buffs eventually.



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