The Rest Of the Bergman Box, Part 2: The Winter Light Trilogy

This is now the last of the films in the Ingmar Bergman's Cinema box that Criterion had previously released.  It's sort of an unofficial trilogy of religiously themed films from the 1960s that they first released as a DVD boxed set in 2003, simply titled 'A Film Trilogy by Ingmar Bergman.'  This is a very loose trilogy, as no characters or story points are maintained across the films, and Bergman never titled or marketed the films that way at the time.  But their subsequent treatment on home video as probably forever fixed them together now in the public's mind.  Anyway, this trilogy was upgraded to blu and included in the 2018 boxed set, and have since been released as a 3-disc blu-ray set last year.  It was actually a 4-DVD set, as they also included the feature length documentary Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie, which yes, has also been carried over into the subsequent collections.
So we begin with 1961's Through a Glass DarklyHarriet Andersson plays a mentally disturbed woman who's convinced that she's waiting to be visited by God.  This is one of Bergman's big ones; it won the Academy Award for best foreign film, and it was the first film to be shot on his famous island of Faro.  Max von Sydow plays Andersson's husband and Gunnar Björnstrand her father.  If you're a secular viewer, it can be hard to feel the degree of affinity for the characters' struggle in the face of God's resolute silence that Bergman was trying to foster here during his own crisis of faith that he was going through at the time.  But it's still a powerful dramatization of a family collapsing under the stress of forces seemingly beyond their control.
2003 US Criterion DVD top; 2018 US Criterion BD bottom.
Criterion widens it's framing a tad here, from 1.33:1 to 1.38, revealing a bit more along the right-hand side.  This 2k scan comes from an interpositive, but you wouldn't guess it from the sharp, fine detail.  Grain is a little light, making me wonder if they softened it a bit, but it looks great in motion.  The exposure has been brought down to a more natural level with less contrasty lights and natural blacks.  The original Swedish mono track plays in lossless LPCM with optional English subtitles, with a lossy English dub to boot.

The DVD was light on extras, though it had a nice on-camera overview by Peter Cowie, plus the trailer.  Happily, the blu didn't just keep that but added to it, including one of those Bergman Island intros and a chat with Harriet Andersson recorded at some public event.  Still not exactly a packed special edition, but it does feel a little more filling now.
Two years passing brings us the second film in this trilogy, Winter Light, with the most obvious connection: the second film that uses a spider as an image of God.  In this film, Max von Sydow meets with his pastor, Gunnar Björnstrand, because he's become despondent over the looming threat of nuclear annihilation.  It's another crisis of faith and through their debate, Sydow actually convinces Björnstrand to renounce his belief in God - whoops!  You know things are grim when you successfully talk your priest out of his religion.  But it could be good news for Ingrid Thulin (probably Bergman's most under-appreciated leading lady), the schoolteacher who's long been in love with Björnstrand, yet couldn't be with him due to his role in the church.  What do you do if you've spent your entire life following a path you now no longer believe is correct?
2003 US Criterion DVD top; 2018 US Criterion BD bottom.
Once again, we widen out from 1.33:1 to a more proper 1.38:1, this time scanning the original 35mm camera negative in 2k.  Grain does seem a little more consistent than Through a Glass Darkly, with the lighting and contrast looking like this footage was shot yesterday.  It's considerably sharper and more vivid than the DVD, though looking at the first set of shots... has some over-zealous digital scratch removal removed half of that poor man's watch?  haha  Once again, we get the original Swedish mono track in LPCM with optional English subtitles, plus another lossy English dub.  You'd have to be a bit crazy to opt to watch these films dubbed into English, but it's nice that Criterion hangs onto these tracks as historical artifacts.
2003 US Criterion DVD top; 2018 US Criterion BD bottom.
The extras here are similar to the last disc.  The DVD includes a sit-down with Cowie and the trailer, which the BD keeps.  The blu adds another one of those intros, and also slaps on the entire Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie documentary, which was given its own, separate disc in the DVD set.  It's a pretty excellent and thorough behind-the-scenes look at the filming of Winter Light, the sort of first class and refreshingly candid documentary Bergman seems to have allowed during the filming of many of his masterpieces, and which we've seen throughout this boxed set.  It's over five hours and broken up into five parts, from the initial script writing to the premiere - a genuine treat directed by Vilgot Sjöman, a famous filmmaker probably best known for the I Am Curious (Yellow/ Blue) movies.  It's a little disappointing that Criterion didn't take the opportunity to give it a fresh scan and lossless audio, or at least correct the interlacing, but it's at least a little less compressed in HD.

So, no, Criterion didn't cook up any new features for this blu, but after watching the full doc and Cowie's retrospective, what more could you want?
Finally, still in 1963, we come to The Silence.  It feels a little less a third of a whole than the previous two films.  For one thing, there's no spider, and Sydow and Björnstrand have left us.  There's also very little talk or sign of religion, although perhaps its absence is itself an important point.  This time, we're following two sisters (Ingrid Thulin and Gunnel Lindblom, who'd quietly stolen the show in The Virgin Spring) who stop at a hotel during a long journey home.  Thulin is older, physically ill and sexually repressed, while her younger sister is healthy and free, each resenting the other.  Lindblom also has a son who gets into a bit of a subplot with some circus midgets, because this was made in the 60s, and the small boy's exploration of his large, dominating environment are very reminiscent of Fanny and Alexander.  But at its heart, this film is really about the distance that's grown between the two sisters, and how to reconcile it... or even if they ultimately should.
2003 US Criterion DVD top; 2018 US Criterion BD bottom.
You can probably sing this part with me by this point.  The blu-ray widens the framing from 1.33:1 to 1.38, revealing a little more along the right.  This is another 2k scan, though from an interpositive again rather than the original negative.  Even without clicking through to see these shots at full size and resolution, it's obvious how much sharper the blu is, and also brighter while still keeping true blacks.  Grain is a little better represented than it was on Through a Glass, which is possibly just down to better compression.  I do kind of wish these films had been scanned in 4k, especially since I suspect this may be the last time anyone bothers to restore most of them, but since we're talking BDs rather than UHDs, what we get is more than satisfactory.  Again, we get the original Swedish in LPCM with optional English subtitles, and another one of those funny, lossy English dubs.

Again, the DVD gives us a nice, brief once over from Peter Cowie and the trailer.  There's also a very brief photo gallery as well this time.  The blu-ray keeps all of that, but the only thing it adds is the introduction.  Plus, of course, each DVD (except Makes a Movie) has an insert with notes, the contents of which have been carried over to the boxed set's 248-page tome.
And that takes us through all of the films Criterion had already previously issued before their box.  As we move into Part 3, things should start to get a little more interesting, as the DVD comparisons will start involving some of the obscure import editions I'd been collecting over the years.  See you there!

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