The Silence (Ingmar Bergman, 1963)

I liked this a lot more than I thought I would, probably because for once I was watching a Bergman movie that didn’t feature some of the most unrealistic dialogue ever conceived as beautiful Swedes endlessly wax theological. Rather, impossibly wordy dialogue gave way to the title of the film: silence. As the dying translator, her voluptuous sister, and the sister’s inquisitive young son waste away (literally, in the case of Ingrid Thulin’s Ester) in that fancy but creepily empty hotel, the silence becomes deafening after a while, punctuated by the boy’s running footsteps as he explores the hotel’s hallways, Ester’s nauseating gags and guttural noises as her body fails her, and Anna washing her naked body. There’s an unspoken disdain between the two sisters, one whose seed you can tell was planted a long, long time ago – a disdain that is quite obviously, despite the long passages of silence and apparent lack of anything happening, coming to a head as you can tell that Anna now downright loathes the sickly attention-seeker she perceives her sister to now be.  We’re basically presented with the entire psychological history of this family, within the physical and chronological confines of a posh hotel in an unnamed city within the backdrop of war (an unexplained scene involving a tank rumbling through the streets as young Johan observes from his window is a nice metaphor for the unsaid war between the sisters) in the span of a day or two, and with barely a line said between the three at that.  It’s all presented in a surprisingly believable way – we believe that Ester, bored and unable to leave the hotel room due to her illness, would masturbate, or that little Johan the explorer would wander the halls of the hotel, fool around with the troupe of midget actors staying in another room, and cautiously observe the ancient porter who sneaks sips from a flask, reads the paper, and talks funny, or that Anna, unable to take the sheer monotony of staying in a room to care for the sister that she loathes, would alleviate that boredom by going out to a bar and a show in a skimpy dress, practically begging to get picked up.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say it’s one of the more convincing day-in-the-life movies I’ve seen, to the point that the eventual showdown between the sisters, where their long-pent up emotions are finally released, feels like it couldn’t go down any other way.  I could go on about the philosophical implications of sister vs. sister and how the boy is our own eyes and ears, not quite understanding what’s going on and gliding between the two, but what I got most out of this was a surprisingly convincing, surprisingly real portrait of an unconventional family on the verge of tatters, in both a physical and emotional waystation not knowing what to do.  The performances are universally great, particularly in those moments of silence, and particularly in the case of that strange old porter who plays hide and seek with the boy, only to frighten him, and dotes on the increasingly frail Ester, feeding her, doing her laundry, and merely sitting with her and reading the paper – and all this despite not speaking a word of each other’s language.  There’s a special kind of bond between Ester and that porter (much more so than between her and her vindictively scorned and scornful sister), as well as between she and her young nephew, particularly in the case of a note she leaves for the boy, whose meaning need not be spoken.  When you consider how deep these relationships, and these performances, are, despite Bergman employing basically a fraction of the dialogue he’d normally use, he probably should’ve made more films like this.

8.5/10

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