The Rest Of the Bergman Box, Part 3: US Debuts

Welcome back, gang!  For Part 3, we come to all the films from the Ingmar Bergman's Cinema set that Criterion had never been previously released, and indeed were only available through foreign imports.  So Criterion's box was giving all of these their US debuts, not just in HD but on disc at all.  This is going to be the longest post in this series, just in terms of shear number of films covered (eight), but it's going to be simpler in one sense.  There are almost zero special features to document, both on the original DVDs and Criterion's new BDs.  Bundle up, Bergman fans, we're about to ride into Barebones Country.
Taking these chronologically, we start with 1947's A Ship To India.  This is definitely one of Bergman's more melodramatic titles, about tensions between a hunchback sailor (one of Bergman's first regular leading men, Birger Malmsten), his abusive alcoholic father, and the chorus girl he falls in love with.  It's based on a 1946 play, but Bergman wrote the screenplay and you call feel it.  Matters of love and family rise to the stakes of life and death, and the film is filled with stark imagery, from dark seaports to depressed music halls.  One of the characters is slowly going blind because of course he is.  But Bergman manages to ground the play's over-the-top tendencies, granting authentic emotion to the play's heightened plot, creating something that holds up surprisingly well.
2007 Klubb Super 8 DVD top; 2018 Criterion BD bottom.
For ages, A Ship To India was only available on an English-friendly Swedish DVD label called Klubb Super 8.  Their discs were PAL but region free, dual-layered and even featured English descriptions on the back cover.  On said back cover, this film is listed as being 1:1.37, but when you crop away all the dead space around the edges, it's more like 1.27.  Criterion presents it in the proper 1.37 AR, though, and boy what a difference their 2k scan of the 35mm duplicate negative makes.  The comparison is made all the stronger by the fact that the DVD is from a murky, tape-based source with some fuzzy digital noise (perhaps from an attempt to sharpen it) on top.  It was a welcome disc at the time, with a stable image and optional English subs, but going to Criterion's HD transfer is a revelation, clean and vivid, with an authentic film base.  Criterion's presents the original Swedish mono in lossless LPCM with removal English subtitles.  Neither disc has any sort of extra.
Bergman has a well-earned reputation for being depressive, but it's worth noting that he has made a few comedies over the years, including Smiles Of a Summer Night, The Venetian, All These Women and 1952's Waiting Women.  The wives of three brothers get together and dish on their relationships, creating a sort of romantic comedy anthology film, each with their own story of infidelity or secret pregnancy.  This format naturally calls for a strong ensemble cast, and our director delivers.  Birger Malmsten is back, this time accompanied by a couple of Bergman's other all-stars: Eva Dahlbeck and Gunnar Björnstrand.  As a comedy, it may not be overtly hilarious, but it does get funnier as it goes along, and it manages to ease in some serious, weighty moments as well.  In fact, it might be more accurate to say this is a healthy mix of both drama and comedy, each segment with its own tone.  Gunnar Fischer even adapts distinctly different visual styles, giving us something ultimately more rewarding than just laughs, though those do surface eventually.
2005 Tartan DVD top; 2018 Criterion BD bottom.
Tartan first released this film on DVD in the UK in 2005, as part of their impressively long line of discs called The Bergman Collection.  Some films released in that series have yet to appear on disc anywhere else, though this one of course found its way into Criterion's box set.  The Tartan disc is a single layer PAL disc with a 1.33:1 picture, which Criterion gently corrects to 1.38:1, revealing additional picture primarily along the sides.  Despite the Klubb Super 8 disc's extra layer, though, Tartan's DVD looks a heck of a lot better than the Ship disc.  It doesn't have that mushy, duped look, contrast is stronger, and it's not masked with noise.  For a DVD, it's rather strong, though of course Criterion's 2k scan of another 35mm duplicate negative takes it to another level.  Both discs include the original Swedish mono with optional English subtitles, lossless on the blu, with no special features except for some bonus trailers and an insert with notes for the DVD and a chapter in the 248 page tome with the blus.
Speaking of comedies, here's another one!  1954's A Lesson In Love.  Eva Dahlbeck and Gunnar Björnstrand were the power couple in Waiting Women, so here they're given a whole feature together, and it's as charming as their time together before would lead you to expect.  A large part of the story unfolds in flashback.  Again they're a married couple, but this time they each have an affair, so they get a separation.  But after a chance meeting on a train, they begin to fall back in love with each other.  If that sounds a little too typical and predictable, he throws in a subplot about their daughter, played by Harriet Andersson, who wants to get a sex change to escape the sexism of modern society.  The film also has a final surprise that I've read a number of fans and critics react quite strongly against.  But I loved it.  I'm not about to spoil anything, but if you've never seen it, you might want to brace yourself just in case.
2004 Tartan DVD top; 2018 Criterion BD bottom.
The DVD is another Tartan disc from their Bergman collection, and it looks pretty great for SD.  The back of their case just lists the AR as "Original Academy Ratio," but it's 1.33:1.  Criterion's BD is 1.37:1, which is the actual original Academy ratio.  That difference basically just boils down to a little more picture on the right.  Criterion has also pointed their frame a little higher than Tartan's, which has an extra sliver along the bottom.  This time, Criterion's scan is a 2k pass on an interpositive.  Grain is represented very authentically and the image is naturally crisper in HD.  If it weren't for the differences in framing, though, viewers could be forgiven for thinking that the DVD and BD were taken from the same master.  But that's definitely more praise for the DVD than a criticism of the blu, which to its credit, also has to be said to reduce the flaring in the brightest parts of the screen to a more natural realism.  Again, both discs include the original Swedish mono with optional English subtitles, lossless on the blu.  But this time, the only instance you'll come across in this post, Criterion has a special feature!  They have one of those introductions recorded during the Bergman Island screenings.  Tartan, again, just has bonus trailer.
I really like 1955's Dreams.  I know it's not one of his masterpieces alongside The Seventh Seal or Fanny & Alexander, but there's something touching about the charming ache captured in this relatively simple tale of failed romance.  Harriet Andersson plays a young model who gets picked up by an older gentleman, Gunnar Björnstrand.  But the impossibilities of their relationship come sharply into view quite quickly.  Eva Dahlbeck plays the owner of Andersson's modeling agency, who's having problems with her own love life.  Apparently, this one gets knocked around by critics a bit, sometimes dismissed as inconsequential.  But I find it endlessly watchable, heartbreakingly genuine, and it has a more mature take on May-December romances than most of Hollywood today.  Enough so that I was excited to find I could import from Australia back in 2008.
2008 Madman DVD top; 2018 Criterion BD bottom.
Despite Madman's DVD being from a different company in a different country, it's the same story in terms of AR: 1.33:1 is widen to the proper Academy ratio of 1.37:1, revealing slightly more image along the sides.  The back of the DVD case promised an "all new restored master," and I do have to admit it looks pretty good.  Still, of course, Criterion's 2k scan of the original camera negative is better.  The DVD is overly contrasty, crushing detail out of the dark areas and flaring out the bright spots, which the blu restores to natural.  And of course, being in HD, the image is decidedly sharper with its grain returned to view.  The DVD also has some wonky compression artifacts, which of course the blu cleans up.  Both discs include the original Swedish mono with optional English subtitles, lossless on the blu, but the only extras on either release are couple bonus trailers on the DVD.
Now, 1958's Brink of Life seems to be enjoying a popular rediscovery with Criterion's set, and it's not hard to see why.  A film that deals with some heavy issues with a mostly light touch, and rounding up three of Bergman's best leading ladies: Eva Dahlbeck, Ingrid Thulin and Bibi Andersson as expectant young mothers sharing a room in a maternity ward.  Erland Josephson and Max von Sydow turn up in supporting roles as visiting husbands, but it's the bonds formed between the women, including the attending nurses, that make up the heart of this film.  The fact that this was based on two original stories by screenwriter Ulla Isaksson gives this one more of a feminist touch than usual.  Apparently this film was also controversial for its time due to a relatively graphic birth scene, but it is staged, and certainly nothing compared to the stuff they showed us in health class when I was a kid. 😝
2007 Klubb Super 8 DVD top; 2018 Criterion BD bottom.
We're back to Klubb Super 8, and it's the same story with this DVD.  1.27:1 dual-layered DVD with a soft, tape-based transfer covered in some unfortunate noise.  Criterion's 2k scan of the original 35mm camera negative corrects all of those problems, widening us back out to 1.37:1 to reveal more picture, primarily on the right, cleaning up the noise, bringing the brights back down to appropriate levels.  I was grateful for these Klubb 8 DVDs at the time, in lieu of anything else, but comparing them to their BD counterparts, they sure are ugly.  Both discs include the original Swedish mono with optional English subtitles, lossless on the blu.  Neither disc has any extras at all.
Now here's a fun one: The Devil's Eye from 1960.  Before the film is allowed to properly begin, Gunnar Björnstrand breaks the fourth wall to explain to us that Hell is shaped like a funnel and Satan has a pain in his eye.  From there we cut to Satan himself in Hell who's summoned his top advisors to solve his problem.  What could be the trouble?  A young woman (Bibi Andersson)'s innocence up on Earth.  So naturally, he calls upon the legendary lover Don Juan and sends him up, with The Venetian's Sture Lagerwall as his loyal servant, promised that he can end his eternal suffering if he seduces this woman and spoils her painful innocence.  They all wind up staying with a naive vicar and his wife.  Sturge falls in love with the wife while Don Juan attempts to woo Andersson, and another demon keeps popping up, just to stir trouble and make sure everybody's unhappy.  It's a bit of a Noises Off-style farce in a way: the vicar locks the demon up in his cupboard and somebody's always on the verge of catching somebody else in bed with the wrong story.  The waters surely run deeper if you care to dig, but it's tempting enough to just enjoy this crazy comic fantasy on its perfectly agreeable surface levels, with its amusing characters and some very cool underworld imagery.
2007 Tartan DVD top; 2018 Criterion BD bottom.
Happily, this is another scan taken from the original 35mm camera negative, so its visions of Hell look stunning in 2k with deep blacks, fine detail and vivid flames.  Not that Tartan's disc came up too short for a DVD.  This time their framing is 1.36:1, barely lacking any information found in Criterion's 1.37.  Of course the blu is sharper and the film grain is finally visible, HD naturally trumps SD, and Criterion's blu is an especially fine example.  But the better a DVD is, the less a BD can outshine it, and Tartan's was alright quite good.  Especially when there are no extras or anything else to stand the two discs apart.  Criterion has lossless audio, of course, and Tartan has a couple of useless bonus trailers.  That's the whole story.
1969's The Rite is a bit of an odd duck, too.  There was always something about that decade.  A small troupe of actors, including Gunnar Björnstrand and Ingrid Thulin, are accused of performing an obscene play.  The film goes through a series of interrogations of them by a judge (and each other), who winds up probing for much more than their theatrical history.  But he may have underestimated the power of the artist when he orders them to give him a private performance of their mysterious work.  This is one stark film, with barren sets stocked with nothing but a lone desk, bed or stool, blank canvas walls and plain single curtains all around, and actors frequently addressing the camera directly.  This is a movie with no superficial trappings, just the pure, undiluted human guts of drama.
2004 Tartan DVD top; 2018 Criterion BD bottom.
Here's a first: both discs are the exact same AR: 1.33:1.  But that doesn't mean the framing's the same; Criterion's blu pulls out to reveal more along all four sides.  The DVD is softer and murkier, sometimes too contrasty, sometimes not enough.  This is another 2k scan of the original 35mm camera negative, so it looks much nicer.  Tartan's DVD was nice for its time, but I'm happy to sell it off now and put it behind me.  Again, the blu has lossless audio, both have removable English subs, and the only extras on either disc are Tartan's bonus trailers.
Finally(!), we come to another one of my personal favorites, 1984's After the Rehearsal.  This is basically a dramatic three-hander with Erland Josephson as a theater director clearly patterned after Bergman himself, who's both professionally and romantically entangled with his two actresses Ingrid Thulin and Lena Olin during their production of Strindberg's Dream Play (which the real Bergman brought to film back in 1963).  I couldn't blame 2020 audiences for being tired of older man/ younger woman relationships in film, but it's important to note that's not actually what takes place here, even if it is openly discussed with; and after all, I suppose that sort of thing was a big part of his own lived experience.  Amusingly, Tartan credits Liv Ullmann as the star of this film, but she isn't here, not even in a walk-on.
I guess it's just hard not to think of her while watching this particular play unfold given how public their ups and downs have been.  This is a film about age and death more than sex and romance, the suggested but ultimately impossible relationship between Josephson and Olin being just one iteration (another, obviously, is Thulin's fears of aging out of her stage career).  This is a Bergman stand-in taking stock of his own life and facing responsibility for how he's affected those closest to him, in a bit of a dream play of his own.
2006 Tartan DVD top; 2018 Criterion BD bottom.
The biggest differences got saved for last, partially because this film's in colors, and as you can see, Criterion took the opportunity to change the colors drastically, pushing well into the greens.  And it's partially because Tartan's DVD is non-anamorphic, so it was really crying out for an upgrade.  Oh, and also too because this is the only film in this run not to be based on a scan of the negative or the interpositive; this is just a 2k scan of a 35mm positive print.  That's why the transfer is low on detail and the grain is thick and clumpy; but at least it looks filmic.  The aspect ratios are similar, 1.64-1.65:1 on the DVD and 1.67:1 on the blu, though you can see the framing's been further adjusted in the new edition, aiming a bit higher.  As always, it's the Swedish mono (the DVD says stereo, but it seems to just be the mono in 2.0), in LPCM on the blu, with optional English subtitles and only bonus trailers on the DVD passing for extras.
So that's it.  That's all the films in this set that had been released in other regions, but were making their US debuts on disc with this box.  Finally, we wrap'll things up in Part 4 with the most films I was most excited about - the ones that had never been available before anywhere in the world!  Plus, we'll delve into that bonus disc, and an extra little surprise or two.  TTFN.