The Other Essential Bergman Set

So admittedly it took me ages, but I did eventually work my way through comprehensively covering the entirety of Criterion's massive 30-disc boxed set of Ingmar Bergman films.  However there's one more must-have Bergman set I still need to cover.  Of course this isn't the only other collection of Ingmar Bergman blu-rays.  There was the 100th Anniversary box from Germany in 2018, a 10-disc "Essential" set in France a few years before that, etc etc.  But there's nothing in any other Bergman box that isn't in Criterion's.  Ingmar Bergman's Cinema has made all the Bergman sets obsolete, except this one: Classic Bergman, 5 Films By the Master of Cinema from Artificial Eye in the UK.

Four of those films?  Not exclusive.  They're covered in the Criterion, and I've just updated their pages to make detailed comparisons between the releases here:

In brief, only AE's release of Brink of Life, here titled So Close To Life, could be said to have any advantage over the Criterion, which wiped the floor with the other three.  One film, though, is not included in Ingmar Bergman's Cinema, or any other box.  It's not sold separately either.  It's only available in this AE set: 1946's It Rains On Our Love.  So if you're trying to get every Bergman film there is on blu, you have to get this set.  But to sweeten the pot, AE also has a very good, exclusive documentary that covers all new ground, and interviews several actors, that all the Criterion extras somehow missed.
So let's talk about It Rains On Our Love.  It's a sort of fanciful melodrama with a lot of very bleak social realism, which, if you're a Bergman fan, won't sound so unusual.  Bergman's first regular leading man Birger Malmsten stars as a mysterious drifter who hangs out at the local bus station and picks up Barbro Kollberg who's so down on her luck, she decides to throw her whole life in with him on a fleeting romantic whim.  Unfortunately, as Ingmar is keen to show us in an incremental, spirit-crushing series of seemingly never-ending unfair events, modern society has it out for young lovers who try to make their own way in life.  Every kind old farmer and small shop owner turns out to be just dying to take advantage of them and then cast them further out of society once they've bled them dry.  The whole film is essentially an indictment of capitalist culture.
But then there's the fanciful side.  Our story is narrated by an old man with an umbrella who repeatedly interjects himself into the young couple's lives to help out.  When our friends finally do find genuine, trust-worthy friends, they're a trio of balloon-carrying comic relief fools right out of a Shakespeare play.  Their most faithful companion of all turns out to be a small dog who walks everywhere on its hind legs unprovoked.  And it all ends in an implausible trial scene straight out of I Accuse My Parents.  You really get a sense of Bergman's history with classic literature in his unnatural blend of neo-realistic tragedy and with comic fantasy.  Mainstream audiences looking to have their conventional dramatic expectations met will be put off for sure, but Bergman enthusiasts will feel right at home.
It Rains On Our Love has always been a rare find on home video.  The only English-friendly DVD as far as I'm aware (and believe me, I searched) was the Klubb Super 8 Swedish import released in 2007.  But in the summer of 2012, the clouds parted and Artificial Eye included in their 5-disc blu-ray set called Classic Bergman.  To this date, it remains the only HD version of this film on disc, and thankfully it's rather good.
2007 Klubb Super 8 DVD top; 2012 Artificial Eye BD bottom.
In fact, this is quite a big upgrade, although Super Klubb 8 deserves as much blame as AE earns credit for that.  Their print is heavily damaged and soft, seemingly taken from a VHS copy of a worn out film print, and framed oddly at 1.28:1.  The blu comes in at a more natural 1.33:1, revealing more around the image and delivering a far clearer and cleaner film scan in HD.  Grain is clear and authentic.  My one note would be that it's a little heavy on the contrast, bordering on flared out whites and crushed blacks, but it's not too bad and is a far superior viewing experience to the bowl of mushy gray soup that is the DVD.

Both discs include the original Swedish mono track with optional English subtitles, but I'm happy to report - given AE's history with often lossy soundtracks - the blu provides a much stronger LPCM track.
For It Rains On Our Love, the only special features either disc offers is a brief stills gallery from Klubb Super 8.  But as part of Classic Bergman, we do get two very nice documentaries on other discs in the set.  I've already written about one of them, Women and Bergman, here, as it was also included in Criterion's extensive Bergman box.  But that documentary has a twin, Men and Bergman, which is still only available in this set.  It's another round table with some of Bergman's actors, again extra rewarding for including key players who don't appear in any other Bergman extra or doc.  Women and Bergman is about half an hour and Men is just under a full hour.  Men includes Thommy Berggren, Borje Ahlstedt and Thorsten Flinck, and as you might guess from that line-up, gets into his stage work as much as his cinematic.  It goes another step further, too, by also including a separately taped one-on-one talk with Erland Josephson.
It Rains On Our Love isn't one of Bergman's all-time greats, but it isn't bottom of the barrel either.  Once you've made your way through Ingmar Bergman's Cinema, you're going to want this one in your collection, too.  And Men and Bergman is both good and original enough to substantially sweeten the pot.  Don't think of it as a set with a lot of repeats, think of it as one great disc with some excessive packaging.  Unfortunately, AE's box is out of print now, but if you spot it for a reasonable price, definitely snatch it up. 

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