Port of Call Review
Gösta, a sailor returning home from the East Indies with hopes and ideals, witnesses a young woman throw herself into the sea at the docks in an attempt to drown herself. It’s a premonitory sign that he has to return to the grim reality of life in a small port town and soon Gösta finds he has to accept a manual labour job working in the docks. One night at a dance-hall he once again meets the girl from the docks, Berit.
Berit is unhappy and seeks solace in sex, picking-up boys in an effort to ease the loneliness she feels inside. When she meets Gösta, she expects nothing more from him than previous relationships – another port of call for men who know they can take advantage of her weakness. Berit’s promiscuity is a matter of common knowledge – she has spent time in a reformatory and, when her mother finds out she’s been with another boy, she reports her to the social worker. What will happen to her relationship with Gösta when he finds out about her past?
Port of Call (‘Hamnstad’) is untypical of the type of films we normally associate with Ingmar Bergman, but is representative and a good example of his early film work before he had gathered the regular troupe of actors and characters that he would later mine for his more complex, psychological dramas. Later Bergman dramas would come to be associated with personal breakdowns, the alienation and isolation of the characters expressed partly in the remoteness of the outside locations (Persona, Autumn Sonata, Winter Light, Hour of the Wolf, The Passion of Anna). Here, as in many of Bergman’s early films (Summer Interlude, Summer With Monika, Torment) it’s the outside location, the small-town attitudes and social restrictions on young people, particularly women, that influences the state of mind of the characters rather than represents it. Port of Call is consequentially a much more conventional social drama, a rite of passage for the young director.
While it lacks the sophistication and complexity of later Bergman films, Port of Call is nevertheless a very fine film. Berit and Gösta’s relationship, as well as their backgrounds and aspirations, are well-defined. Berit’s reaction when Gösta turns up for a second date – even though she knows that it was more by accident that they happened to meet again – is expressed with such overwhelming joy by Nine-Christine Jönsson, that the viewer’s heart can’t help but go out to her. The film’s subject is very much that of the couple’s struggle against a society that wants to keep them apart and there’s a bit of a “love of a good man” situation that is not terribly original and it’s often not too subtle or realistic in its social observation – although it was certainly shocking for the time it was made. But it’s the genuine sincerity of the central relationship, the strong characterisation it is built upon and its progress through the barriers that the attitudes of society put up against it that carries the film along.
Tartan’s release of Port of Call, like their other Bergman Collection releases is Region 0.
Presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, the film shows nice crisp tones and not much in the way of grain. There are occasional scratches and marks visible on the print, particularly at the start of reels and a faint dirt track is visible towards the end of the print, but the flaws are infrequent and minor and there is certainly no serious damage on the print. There are however a great deal of compression artefacts, with one or two early scenes wobbling and shimmering quite badly. I noticed this less as the film went on however.
The original mono soundtrack is presented as Dolby Digital 1.0 through the centre speaker only. The audio quality is not too bad, but considering the age of the film, there are noticeable issues. There is a low level of background hiss and minor crackle which quieter dialogue struggles to compete with, but nothing that really causes too many problems.
Optional English subtitles are provided in white font, and are clear and easily readable.
Again, no excerpts from the Bergman on Bergman memoirs or anything else on the disc relevant to the actual film. The Philip Strick Film Notes included on the DVD of earlier Tartan Bergman Collection releases appear to now be presented in a 4-page booklet, although this wasn't seen with the review copy. On the disc itself are an Autumn Sonata Trailer (2:22), presented in 1.66:1 letterbox, and a Persona Trailer (2:30), presented in 1.85:1 letterbox with a voice-over of critics notices. Both trailers are stunning advertisements for the films. The Ingmar Bergman Filmography extensively covers all his work, including his TV, production, writing and acting work. Filmographies are also included for Nine-Christine Jönsson and Bengt Eklund.
Made in 1948, Port of Call deals with some serious social questions in a manner that would undoubtedly have been shocking for the time and it even contains a very brief nude scene, all of which would gain the film a certain notoriety and an ‘X’ certificate for its UK release. While Bergman deals with the subject with customary frankness, in as far as would have been possible for the time, the film doesn’t dwell on the more lurid aspects or use them for shock value. The director’s main interests are in the psychological make-up of his characters and the effect their environment and social conditioning has on them. In the process, the director and cast present a taut, workman-like script with strong characterisation in an involving and, allowing for some melodrama, in a quite realistic and customarily grim fashion. The DVD is quite up to the standard of previous Tartan Bergman Collection releases, though it lacks much in the way of relevant features to support the film.
Last updated: 12/06/2018 12:17:59