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After The Rehearsal
cast: Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin, and Lena Olin

director: Ingmar Bergman

72 minutes (15) 1984
widescreen ratio 1.66:1
Tartan DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
Originally a TV movie, After The Rehearsal was supposed to be one of Ingmar Bergman's final films. Shot with a limited cast (three characters), on one set and with familiar crew, this cynical and slightly depressing look at the relationship between a director and his actors did not prove to be Bergman's last but it does grant a candid look into what Bergman saw as the role of a director.

Henrik Vogler is an elderly theatre director. After a rehearsal for a revival of Strindberg's A Dream Play he finds himself on stage when his lead actress comes to find him. The two begin to talk about their respective roles and why they feel the need to do what it is they do. Then, suddenly (as if by magic), an older actress appears. Professing to be an old friend of Vogler's she theatrically expresses regret at her age and the decline of her career, begging Vogler to take her to bed and to build another production around her. All the time the two actresses are on-stage together they do not register each other's existence. The older actress turns out to have been the younger actress' dead mother but she could also be the young actress' future self, embittered by a career that never completely satisfied and dependent upon past sexual partners to keep afloat. As the film ends, Vogler and the young actress verbally play out the sexual relationship they both want and decide that while there are worse ways to pass the time, perhaps it wouldn't be such a good idea.

Introspective to the point of autism, After The Rehearsal is a stage upon which Bergman, after a long career, can lecture on what he considers to be the role of the director. Always analytical and aloof in theory, the director is supposed to be detached enough to direct the emotional flow of his actors. However, the director is also human and he can't help but get sucked into the emotional vortex that trails in an actor's wake. The film seems to suggest that whether or not a director manages to elevate himself above the crass emotional incontinence of the acting profession, we all age and die eventually anyway.

This film has the stench of death about it. Bergman's ambivalence towards his own ideas and the film's obsessions with death, decay and the pointlessness of existence resonate with the autobiographical feel of an auteur whose life and creative energies are slowly winding down. The characters traipse on and off the stage, staying only long enough to deliver a short lecture or a theatrical monologue, giving the film a feeling of being a dumping ground. Indeed, After The Rehearsal feels like the place ideas go to die. A younger and more ambitious auteur might have felt the desire to write a book about the nature of the director or to expand the notion of a character's dead mother showing up as foreshadowing for a relationship that never happens into a more substantial film. Instead we have a rather depressing little film filled with half-ideas and concepts that the director seemingly no longer had the energy to exploit.

Nicely acted and with just enough intellectual substance to keep the film going for 70 minutes, After The Rehearsal is for Bergman fans alone. The fact that Bergman is not only still alive but that he went on to write and direct 12 more films after this one make the introspective and decaying tone of the film feel ridiculously self-indulgent and silly. If Bergman had died during the making of this film then it would be remembered as an intelligent final piece of filmmaking. As it is it just seems to have been made during a bit of a bad patch.
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