Scripted but not directed by Ingmar Bergman, Eva is a curious film which, like the other 1948 script not directed by Bergman himself, Torment, is nonetheless interesting for seeing key themes that Bergman would develop traced back to childhood experiences (here relating back to Bergman’s childhood summers in Dalama) and filtered through a more traditional dramatic format than the director’s own later experiments with the form.
Bo Fredriksson (Birger Malmsten), returns home on the train, on leave from serving in the navy. Leaving behind the big city of Stockholm for the remote village where his family live, as he draws nearer home he is haunted by memories of events that once drove him away. He recalls how, as a rebellious 12 year-old resentful of the authority and attitude of his father, he ran away from home, hopping a train and falling-in with a trio of Austrian travelling musicians. Unfortunately, Bo (played as a child by Lasse Sarri) is involved in a tragic accident with the young 10 year-old Marthe (Anne Carlsson), the blind daughter of one of the musicians. This childhood incident continues to haunt him and thereafter Bo still feels the shadow of death constantly about him.
Eva’s theme is quite simple – it’s about a young man who is struggling to reconcile the contradictory feelings of love and life with the presence of death that he feels all around him. When Bo returns home, he visits his ailing uncle and there he meets Eva (Eva Stiberg), a girl from his childhood. They fall in love and become engaged, but Bo fears that he only brings death to those he becomes close to. This feeling is intensified when he returns to Stockholm, where he plays trumpet in a nightclub. There in the city he boards with his friend Göran (Stig Olin), but Göran’s flirtatious wife Susanne (Eva Dahlbeck) who, constantly walking around the house in a state of undress, fires up all kinds of confused feelings in Bo relating to sex and death. Eventually the time comes when Bo is put to the test and has to overcome the feelings and the incidents of the past that haunt him and he abruptly comes to terms with the realisation that death is a part of life.
The presence of death in our lives and how we deal with it is certainly a major theme that would be felt throughout much of Bergman’s work, from the physical presence of death who walks alongside Max von Sydow’s medieval knight in The Seventh Seal, through to young Alexander’s experiences of death in the heavily autobiographical Fanny and Alexander. In its very early treatment here in Eva, the theme is certainly treated in a less psychologically complex way and the conclusions feel rather too easily resolved. Bergman’s script for Torment, made the same year as Eva in 1948, also deals in a melodramatic way with similarly themes of childhood rebellion and early experience of death, but they are slightly less convincing and credible here. The middle sequence where Bo is caught in the snare of sexually predatory Susanne during the stifling summer heat of the city feels like it is bolted on from another film entirely – a bizarre mixture of A Streetcar Named Desire and film noir with Eva Dahlbeck a simmering Barbara Stanwyck-like blonde femme fatale. The sequence feels exceptionally out of place – and certainly not something you would expect to come across in a Bergman film – and it lacks conviction.
Yet Eva is still a well-made film, full of fine photography and beautiful scenery and it is directed well by veteran filmmaker Gustaf Molander who had been making films since 1920 and had brought Ingrid Bergman to the attention of the world in the original Swedish version of Intermezzo, but the treatment here (and the script, it has to be said) fails to draw the appropriate dark angst and torment that Bergman would bring to this kind of material in his films of the 1950s and 60s.
Tartan’s release of Waiting Women, like their other Bergman Collection releases is Region 0.
Most of the Tartan Bergman releases have crisp almost flawless b&w transfers to DVD, but the occasional release suffers from contrast problems and that seems to be the case here with Eva. Certainly the print seems to be in relatively good condition – there is no real grain and few marks or scratches and there appears to be a full range of tones, but occasionally, it can seem too bright with insufficient contrast. With the image also being a touch on the soft side, the transfer can therefore often look hazy. There are also signs of cross-colouration – faint bands of green and purple in backgrounds (see screenshot below), that are scarcely noticeable on a television screen, but the image looked badly discoloured when I viewed it on a computer monitor – so some display setups may have a problem here.
The original Swedish mono audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and is quite adequate. There is a fair amount of background hiss and dialogue is low and dull and a little bit crackly, but this presents few problems in the main.
Optional English subtitles are provided in white font, and are clear and easily readable.
Other than a couple of filmogrpahies, there are no extra features directly relevant to the film on the disc. The Bergman memoirs from Images: My Life In Film on earlier Bergman Collection titles are no longer included. The Philip Strick Film Notes ought to be included now 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 have been extensively trailed on other Bergman releases. Filmographies are included for director Gustaf Molander, Eva Dahlbeck and Birger Malmsten.
While it is far from an essential Ingmar Bergman film, there are interesting elements in his script for Eva particularly in the autobiographical evocation of childhood and early youthful influences that aren’t common in the director’s own later films. The unusual treatment and noir elements here however don’t really convey the requisite force of the rather serious subject matter. The film print looks reasonably well for the most part on DVD, but I can’t help feeling that it could have been better transferred than it is here.