Life is the night ("dense, impenetrable darkness") where the characters grope for connection, and Ingmar Bergman the brooding sophomore runs with it. The story is a John Garfield-Priscilla Lane tale, basically, with a Borzagean hint -- the boy (Birger Malmsten) doesn't even get to the battlefield, he's shot saving a puppy from a practice firing squad. Disembodied limbs grab out of bubbling mud for an expressionistic nightmare, then the hero wakes up in the dark, blind and bitter; he's a gifted pianist, and life gradually emerges out of death as he's asked to play the organ at the funeral of Mai Zetterling's father. An aunt declares all suffering the will of God before biting noisily into a cracker, though it is really Zetterling who soothes his torment, moving in as a maid, reading tenderly to him at night, and providing a startling second of milky nudity as she bounds out of bed, alive with love; his gloom sends her away, however, and Malmsten is soon alone, a piano player at a rotund rotter's dive. An elaborate tracking shot sketches the restaurant, stops for a Lubitsch bit in the kitchen, and notices a skinny Gunnar Björnstrand, who seethes with muted rage. The hero, meanwhile, just wants "to exist, nothing more," until he again meets his beloved, their class barriers having since dissolved. Clinging to his desperate lovers, Bergman thrashes away stylistically -- the filmmaker opens a music box on the soundtrack to indicate poignancy, unleashes an orchestra to suggest despair, summons forth chunks of montage to punctuate his documentary-like panning. Shots are often fumbled, yet the need for human touch is profoundly evoked in its physicality (the sightless Malmsten caresses Zetterling's cheek, she impulsively licks his palm) and its spirituality (his plight magically calls her from her party). Coincidence? Telepathy? God's plan? The young Bergman, still looking for answers himself, doesn't yet rule out any possibility. With Ulla Andreasson, and Åke Claesson. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce