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Thursday, 20 November 2014

Ingmarssönerna (1919) and inter-titles...

More views of - or before - Cambridge Film Festival 2014 (28 August to 7 September)
(Click here to go directly to the Festival web-site)

20 November

* Contains spoilers *

In their role in the status of what a silent film presents, inter-titles are a thing in themselves, carrying more weight than a voice-over often does now – since they intercede in the action, literally interrupting it, and interpret to us what has been seen, what is to come :

Provided, of course, that one can read them in time (especially with inter-titles in translation), there is no escaping them, no doubting their authoritativeness. Not, at any rate, in the way that one can ascribe an interpretative bias to (or infer one from) what a narrative voice says, suggesting that maybe it is not to be trusted…

Taking Ingmarssönerna (Sons of Ingmar) (1919) as an example, we ‘get told’ the following things (about Birta, played by Harriet Bosse), that, having moved from her parents’ property at Bergksog to Ingmar’s Farm (following the reading of the banns), she :

* Became ‘more quiet and strange’

* Had ‘a wild look in her eyes’

In between, we are also told that, in Young Ingmar (Victor Sjöström), there is ‘suspicion brooding’ (although he may have said these words to Old Ingmar). Informing us, in any case, that Brita is behaving ‘strangely’ or has ‘a wild look’ obviates the need to show such things – just as it does to try to present us physically with Ingmar’s brooding suspicion : we can have them implanted as facts, or givens, and make of them as seems fit.

Meanwhile, Kajsa, who seeks to minister to Birta at the farm by assuring her that all is well, seems of a piece with the travelling painter : it seems quite apt that they will meet on the precipice, where Birta says that she desires ‘Peace in my soul’.

The cause, maybe guessed at, of her pain and hurt is learnt in actual speech, to Old Ingmar (and to the judge ?), when Young Ingmar says (of Birta) I forced myself on her : Even so, it ‘came out in the land’ earlier, in Biblical outworking / pathetic fallacy such as we later see, say, in Days of Heaven (1978), and, before it, in DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1956).

Unlike The Holy Family, Ingmar trusts to his material resources, and so fails to have the wedding that he does not think that he can afford, and does not realize what he has turned his fiancée into – in her eyes – as a result. We have the grandeur of the magnificently visual wedding, but it is just what should have been, not, for all its reality before us, what was…

In saying that he forced himself on Birta, he is ready to abase himself, though acknowledging less, at the very same moment, how Birta actually felt about this, or his own failure to address her feelings. Outside the very prison, he is still pleased to imagine that other victims have ‘suffered less’ than he, but it is where but begins the dance between them, as she challenges him – R. D. Laing style – to respond to her, responding to him.

And Mother Märta, who could not have been at church (but maybe she is exempted on account of her great age), pronounces sentence on her son for wanting Birta back, but finds herself forced to reverse it – and to literal rejoicing in heaven, which is suddenly cognisant of the mortal realm, or Ingmar of it, once more.

Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)

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