Allan Edwall

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Winter Light Review


Excellent
Winter Light, the second film in Ingmar Bergman's early-1960s trilogy on the theme of faith in contemporary society, opens in a cold, stone church in a provincial town north of Stockholm. It's uninviting. A service is underway, and the pastor (played by Gunnar Björnstrand) is explaining the origin of the Holy Communion and Christ's betrayal after the Last Supper. The service is poorly attended, the congregation including only the pastor's mistress (Ingrid Thulin), an older woman and a child, and a young couple, he a fisherman (Max von Sydow), and she a housewife expecting their fourth child (Gunnel Lindblom). Everyone is bundled up against the cold, the organist is noisily checking his watch, and outside the windows snow falls ceaselessly.

Winter Light, like much of Bergman, is a slow ride, but it rewards your close attention. The action here has less to do with the plot than with the conflicts taking place within the hearts and souls of its protagonists. Björnstrand's pastor is one who is in crisis; he is battling to retain his faith, and to accommodate his mistress in his life. She has no belief in God; she nurtures on a more practical level (her job is as a school teacher), and the pastor is constantly rejecting her ministrations. The Swedish title of this film translates to The Communicants, meaning both those who take communion and those who communicate among themselves, and it's the tragedy of the film that none of them can.

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