The Passion Of Anna Review

The Passion of Anna is one of the difficult Bergman psychodramas of the sixties, and while it is not the best Bergman film of this period it nevertheless has many things in its favour – an intelligent script, impeccable acting and Sven Nykvist’s beautiful colour photography. The characters are complex and can be interpreted in any number of ways depending on the individual viewer, but the film’s argument isn’t that difficult to follow – while the characters themselves are somewhat fragmented, the storyline itself, at least on the surface, is fairly linear.

Andreas Winkleman (Max von Sydow) lives on a remote island. He is estranged from his wife and lives alone, remaining distant from the few neighbours in the area, burying himself in his work. One day a neighbour, Anna Fromm (Liv Ullmann) calls by, asking for the use of his phone. Andreas eavesdrops on her conversation and, when she has left, looks through the handbag she has left behind, finding an angry yet passionate letter from her husband. It transpires that her husband, also called Andreas, has died in a car crash along with her son and she herself walks with a limp on account of the accident. The breakdown of her relationship and the loss of her husband is a great torment to Anna who is psychologically incapable of dealing with the perceived failure of everything she believes in – a striving for spiritual perfection and truth within herself. Andreas becomes drawn into a relationship with Anna after first becoming involved with Eva (Bibi Andersson), the insomniac wife of another neighbour, Elis Vergerus (Erland Josephson). The relationship between the characters becomes more fraught with complications and concerns arising from events in their pasts. Meanwhile a maniac is causing havoc on the island, killing sheep and burning barns.

That much is evident, but the meaning of some of the more Bergman-esque elements is somewhat more difficult to gauge. One thing the viewer should be careful of is in attaching too much importance to the English title, which seriously misrepresents the film. Originally entitled En Passion (A Passion), the subject of the title in undefined, but Andreas is centre of the film and the passion referred to is more likely to relate to him than Anna. Bergman also breaks-up the film with third-person narrated passages (narrated by Bergman himself) and inserted interludes – improvised commentaries from each of the actors discussing their character’s motivations and behaviour. This doesn’t break-up the film so much as underline the fact that the film’s primary concern is with examining character and behaviour.

The film’s apparent linear narrative actually conceals a circular pattern, each of the characters displaying a propensity for recurring patterns of behaviour and playing-out roles that they have previously enacted with their previous partners. Anna’s previous husband Andreas and Max von Sydow’s character, tellingly with the same name Andreas, both have had an affair with Eva which seems to have been conducted and ended in similar circumstances. The story of Anna’s break-up with her husband also resembles the story of Andreas’ estrangement from his wife. Bergman appears to be examining the recidivist nature of people to fall back into familiar patterns of behaviour, but he also blurs the lines between what actually happened and what people believe happened, how they interpret events for themselves according to their experience and memories of past events. This gives the film a confused, dream-like quality where we are never quite sure whether something is actually happening or is being forced to fit a predetermined sequence of events based on the perceptions or delusions of the damaged minds of the characters in this isolated community. The strange unresolved subplot of the killer and the islanders’ search for someone to blame could be an external representation of madness that reflects the suppressed madness of one or all of the characters, but it is difficult to interpret.

What makes this somewhat less confusing and particularly enjoyable to watch is the attention to detail and the sheer emotional force that each of the characters brings to their role. All of the actors at this stage have long been part of the Bergman’s company and very familiar with working together on this type of material, but they bring a particular intensity to this film which often frames them in close-up, capturing every flicker of emotion and passion. Sven Nykvist’s photography is in this respect simply marvellous – somewhat looser than the fixed, studied head poses of earlier films, the film also benefits from the warm colours that bathe the characters and landscapes in orange glows and is able to draw the full visceral effect from an image of blood on snow. It all contributes to the unspoken language that gives this film particular force despite the ambiguities and confusions inherent within the story.

The Region 2 release of The Passion of Anna is another infuriating back-catalogue release from MGM. It’s particularly infuriating here because the quality of the print is so good, yet there has been so little care in the presentation of the DVD. The print is remarkably clear, sharp and detailed with only the merest hint of grain and occasional minor scratch mark. The colours, so important in colour Bergman films, are superbly transferred, with clarity and the requisite level of saturation. Unfortunately, MGM fail to provide an anamorphic transfer for the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, which would really set the film off. The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio track is dull, flat and rough in places, but generally adequate. English subtitles are optional, but hard of hearing captioned only.

What is particularly galling about the Region 2 release is the lack of extra features that were included in the Region 1 release of the film (reviewed here by Mike Sutton). The commentary track hasn’t been included, the reading of Bergman’s narrative version of the story is missing as are the documentary, interviews, photo galleries and trailers included on the US version of the DVD released earlier this year by MGM. The UK release is a single-layer DVD5 as opposed to the US DVD9. In short, MGM have taken the same cheap approach to the UK release as they have with all of their back catalogue releases and released the film as basic barebones, with their horrible icon menus. The DVD is also actually encoded for Region 2 and 4, so Australia will have to put up with this sub-standard edition also. The Passion of Anna incidentally, has a scene cut in this UK release – a 25 seconds scene of a hanging dog has been removed to comply with BBFC regulations on the treatment of animals in films.

The Passion of Anna is an interesting Bergman film but it’s certainly not one of his best, lacking the cohesion of theme and dramatic strength of his better work. MGM’s UK Region 2 release of the film on DVD is deplorable, particularly considering the care that went into the R1 version. Frankly, if MGM can’t be bothered to give their films due consideration on Region 2, I don’t see how I can recommend this DVD when a much better Region 1 version already exists. Avoid.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 12:20:18

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