Ingmar Bergman enjoyed a long and prolific career as a filmmaker, regularly putting out a new film every year for nearly four decades. Those of his films made in the latter half of the 1950s are generally viewed as his most significant, however, and it is to those that the Criterion set, Ingmar Bergman: Four Masterworks, is dedicated. These films are:
Smiles of a Summer Night – A bittersweet romantic comedy analyzing the complexities and absurdities of a series of love triangles in the early 20th Century. Ironically, this film came about during a period of depression for the director, who was coming out of several failed relationships and unprofitable artistic ventures. The comedy herein is fairly subtle, though it is punctuated by several over-the-top confrontations, all of which is grounded somewhat by the thesis that all love, however powerful, is transient and fleeting. Still, with several poetically brilliant dialogues between its various characters, this is a charming and engaging introduction to Bergman.
The Seventh Seal – The director’s most popular and exciting film, Bergman uses the Black Death-ridden Middle Ages as an allegory for the apocalyptic fear that permeated the Cold War era. The disillusioned crusader Antonius Block journeys to his family’s castle, all the while encountering eccentric and terrifying individuals, not the least of which is the specter of death with whom Block is constantly battling.
Wild Strawberries – While not as iconic as The Seventh Seal or as lyrical as Smiles…, Wild Strawberries is far more dreamlike a picture, especially considering its more modern setting. The film is basically a road-movie about the elderly scholar Isak’s attempts at understanding and making peace with his misspent youth. Through a series of vision-like flashbacks and chance encounters, Isak embarks on a long overdue journey of self-discovery with which most viewers should be able to sympathize.
The Virgin Spring – Perhaps the bleakest of the four films (another irony, considering the director’s sense of personal contentment when he made it), The Virgin Spring is an adaptation of an old ballad chronicling a pious landowner’s brutal revenge on his daughter’s rapists and murderers. A suspenseful piece that would later be remade by Wes Craven, it holds up as a powerful meditation on the struggle between spiritual purity and physical instincts.
These four films, together with the copious supplemental material, make this set the perfect introduction to Bergman’s massive body of work, and a crucial addition to any movie-lover’s collection.
All these films are unrated, though parental guidance is strongly cautioned due to brief nudity, disturbing imagery, and mature themes and content. The set can currently be found online at Barnes and Noble for $50.