After The Rehearsal Review
With his ‘final’ and semi-autobiographical film Fanny and Alexander in 1983, Ingmar Bergman hoped to sum up his life and his work in film, drawing it all into a meaningful conclusion, and to a large extent he succeeded, creating one of his most personal and dynamic films. While he never wished to undertake a full-scale film production again, Bergman continued to work in the theatre, write scripts and direct smaller scale films for television. Evidently feeling that he had more to say about what it means to live one’s life as a director working with actors on the stage and screen, Bergman immediately followed Fanny and Alexander with After The Rehearsal as a kind of epilogue or footnote to his filmmaking life.
Originally conceived as a simple dialogue between a director and an actor on one single stage location, After The Rehearsal was meant to be simple made-for-television film that would be undertaken principally for the pleasure of working with Erland Josephson, Lena Olin and cinematographer Sven Nykvist. The idea was to spend three weeks rehearsing the scenes and then having Nykvist film them – a simple task with familiar collaborators that wouldn’t stretch the semi-retired director too much, but unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way.
Erland Josephson plays Henrik Vogler, a theatre director who is staging a production of Strindberg’s A Dream Play. After a rehearsal one of the actors, Anna (Lena Olin) returns to the stage to pick up a bracelet she believes she has left behind and while they are together the actor and director discuss aspects of the rehearsal, and about performances of plays in general before the conversation turns to question the role of actors and directors and becomes a self-reflective and personal look at the necessity to create drama, both in our lives and in its representation on the stage. The young actress is uncertain of her ability and intimidated by her predecessors, both those who have played her role in the play before and those who have played a similar role in the director’s life. One of those people was Rakel (Ingrid Thulin), Anna’s mother and a former lover of the Henrik.
In After The Rehearsal then, Bergman reflects on the metier of the director and the actor and the eternal struggle between them - one to draw out the light and shade and complexity of a scene, the other to dramatise it. Consequently, the film is rather insular, both in its subject matter and in its stagy one-location representation. But it’s more than just theatrical in its subject and reaches out by extension to a wider viewing of the realities of living and dealing with other people and - as ever with Bergman - the doubts about oneself, ones creativity and the ability to communicate. These everyday challenges of living are intensified in the theatre world, where brief, emotional, close-knit relationships are formed for a period of a number of weeks and are compounded by the insecurities of those with artistic and creative ability in their necessity to express themselves to an audience for entertainment. “This is how I express myself. It’s the only way I know how to... Real or not... I suffer, and I am alone”. It’s a struggle that Bergman has battled with throughout his career and accounts for some of his blackest, bleakest moment of inner creative turmoil in films like Hour Of The Wolf and The Magician.
The extension of the theme outside of the theatrical world is what makes After the Rehearsal a better film and more meaningful than it might have been, but it is also what makes the film difficult to watch and follow. What started out as an already relatively difficult dialogue between a director and an actress is extended upon with the introduction of Anna’s mother Rakel. Now dead, she appears however on the stage in that period when her life was in ruins - an alcoholic, she has recently been hospitalised for a nervous breakdown. She is grateful to Henrik for offering her an opportunity, but at the same time is ashamed that she can only be offered a role with two lines. This opens out the destructive nature of the theatre life on relationships, and complicates the themes being explored by Henrik and Anna, but it is rather difficult to convey all this within the limited theatrical framework of a 70 minute one-location film.
Apart from the difficult decisions made in the editing down of the film, the whole production was particularly difficult for Bergman. Problems plagued the film throughout its making, as the director and actors over-analysed every line of the text and agonised over their delivery (something that the film ironically abjures). Tortuous though it is in places, the lines and the meaning of After The Rehearsal do however come through and it serves its purpose as a closing word on the subject of making films, particularly for Bergman, leaving him determined to renounce making films forever after the experience. Fortunately, Bergman came back to conclude his career in a much more auspicious manner twenty years later with Saraband.
After The Rehearsal is released on DVD in the UK by Tartan as part of their Bergman Collection. The disc is Region 0 and in PAL format.
For what is actually the most modern of the Bergman films released on DVD by Tartan, the transfer of After The Rehearsal has none of the quality or tone of the black and white transfers of Bergman’s 50’s films. Transferred at 1.66:1, letterboxed, without anamorphic enhancement, the picture here is very grainy and very soft. The figures are quite blurred and indistinct in the few distant shots of the stage in the film, but even medium shots show little detail. Tramline scratches are visible throughout, though they are fine and don’t cause many problems. Colours are on the dull side and seem to have a greenish tint. There is a certain amount of telecine wobble and some flicker in brightness levels.
I don’t think you can put any of the blame for the quality of the transfer or its non-anamorphic status on Tartan, as this is undoubtedly all they have been given by Svensk Filmindustri to work with – the French edition from the company who are releasing the same films in France looks exactly the same. Unlike the French edition, Tartan have at least put this short 71 minute film onto a dual-layer disc with practically no extra features, but the gesture is wasted since the original materials are in such a poor condition.
I’m not convinced either by the 1.66:1 aspect ratio, particularly since this is a TV film and was not made for theatrical release. Compositions are very tight in this aspect ratio, with tops of heads, feet and bottoms of chins often being cut off. An example of this, shown full-frame, can be seen in the screenshot below.
There are no real problems with the audio track, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. There is a decent tone and depth to the soundtrack, which is obviously entirely dialogue-based. Consequently, it comes across quite well, with only the faintest of hiss in the background.
English subtitles are presented in an appropriately-sized, discrete white font and are optional.
The only extra features on this release are the inevitable Persona Trailer (2:30) and Autumn Sonata Trailer (2:22) found on many of the other Tartan Bergman Collection releases. As ever these are rounded-out with Filmographies for Ingmar Bergman, Erland Josephson, and Lena Olin. The DVD should also come with the usual Philip Strick Film Notes booklet, but this wasn’t present with the check disc given for review.
After the Rehearsal is a closed, insular and practically autobiographical Bergman film that may not be of interest to everyone, but it has a lot to recommend. It is certainly of interest to anyone who wants to know what makes Bergman tick and it is also of interest as an examination of the art of creating and artistic representation through drama. It may even be of interest to anyone who wants to see three actors, a great director and cinematographer running through their paces on a challenging text - though what they achieve is limited in how successfully it comes across. Similarly unconvincing is the real-world application of such theatrical ruminations, but they are the same actions and emotions that apply to everyone – loves, affairs, jealousies, lack of confidence, fear of failure and death, the desire to control and manipulate – and they are brought to the screen by a master. Tartan’s DVD release this time around is not up to the standard of the other releases in their Bergman Collection, but it doesn’t unduly affect the quality of the film.