And so it begins… Last night I rewatched the first of the 39 movies on my list. But don’t get too excited — I’m trying to work through Bergman’s movies in the order in which they were made, and his earlier films are nowhere near as interesting as his later films.
Crisis (1946) really isn’t a great example of what Bergman could achieve as a filmmaker. He made it simply because it was an opportunity get his career moving, and it shows. With the exception of a few unsettling seconds during one scene (a sex scene, as it happens) the film lacks the originality that seems to have come naturally to him later in his career.
Bergman set out to do nothing more ambitious than tell a story, and that’s all that he achieved. The film sees an 18-year-old girl Nelly (Inga Landgré) leave her small-town roots: Ingeborg (Dagny Lind), the woman who raised her, and Ulf (Allan Bohlin), a man who loves her unrequitedly. She moves to the city to live with her natural mother Jenny (Marianne Löfgren) and her toyboy Jack (Stig Olin), a thrill-seeking narcissist.
The Nelly character is naive and childishly self-centred. Although the plot revolves around her, the characters that matter are the ones who want her in their lives. Their motives for this are the central focus of the film: do they want Nelly because that’s what’s best for Nelly, or because that’s what’s best for themselves?
Bergman thought the story trite (“grandiose drivel”, he called it), but tried to make do with the material he had. The thing that interested him most about the script was the character Jack, who he described as “unhappy and smart with an untamed imagination” (a bit like himself then).
But none of the characters have any real depth. None of them are particularly appealing, and Jack, for all his wild affectations, is no exception. He may be carefree and rebellious, wielding a knife and gun and upstaging a priggish concert with a spontaneous jam session, but he isn’t the kind of antihero you can root for. You don’t care enough about his fate.
Actually, the only character you can root for, if you’re feeling generous, is Ingeborg, but she ruins it by coming across as too overtly pained. Like many of Bergman’s early efforts, Crisis is more melodramatic than it needs to be. There’s something unnatural and forced about the way the actors deliver their lines — more like stage acting than what we recognise as film acting today. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think they were trying to compensate for the lack of meaning in the story.
There’s nothing particularly imaginative about Crisis. A narrator introduces the cast of characters; a tired old story unravels, and then concludes predictably. You are relieved the film ends so abruptly, after just 93 minutes — there would have been no point in dragging it out any longer. We can be thankful that Crisis isn’t a lot worse than it is, considering how badly the shoot went and how insecure and bad-tempered the inexperienced Bergman was at the time (it was only his second film if you count Torment as his first).