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Release Date: 19/11/2001
Ingmar Bergman's stark look at faith is the second part of a trilogy with 'Through a Glass Darkly' (1961) and 'The Silence' (1963). A pastor (Gunnar Bjornstrand) who seems to have lost his faith after his wife's death finds himself unable to give spiritual reassurance to a local fisherman (Max von Sydow), whose wife Marta (Ingrid Thulin) has long been in love with the pastor. As the pastor deals with his own demons and the (to him repulsive) advances of Marta he finds that God may still have some hold over him.
The second of an Ingmar Bergman trilogy, 1962's Winter Light is a deliberate repudiation of the "God is love" message of its predecessor Through a Glass Darkly. Gunnar Bjornstrand stars as Tomas, a pastor in a remote parish tending to a dwindling congregation, as tense and distracted as David--the novelist Bjornstrand plays in Through a Glass Darkly. He finds himself trying to counsel a local fisherman Jonas, who is plagued by a sense of impending atomic doom but realises that the religious platitudes he consoles him with--"put your faith in the Lord"--are mere drivel. He himself is wracked by religious doubts, unable to tolerate "God's silence" and unable to prevent the fisherman from committing suicide. He finds himself taking out his inner woe on his eczema-riddled mistress, played by an unflatteringly made up Ingrid Thulin.
Described by Bergman's own wife as a "dreary masterpiece", the synopsis to Winter Light seems almost comically miserable, yet this passion play is gripping in its unsparing bleakness, bathed in the stark illumination implied by the title, ironically akin to the light of a religious epiphany. Released at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, its preoccupations and all-pervasive anxieties are especially apt.
On the DVD: Bergman's own notes reveal that Winter Lightis among his own favourites and he explains the evolution of the film's ideas at some length. Critic Philip Strick's background notes reveal that Gunnar Bjornstrand was exhausted and ill for much of the making of the film, which doubtless enhanced his anguished performance here. --David Stubbs