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Music in Darkness
October 2006 SITE MAP   SEARCH

Music In Darkness
cast: Birger Malmsten, Mai Zitterling, Olaf Wininestrand, Naima Wifstrand, and Bibi Skoglund

director: Ingmar Bergman

88 minutes (15) 1948
Tartan DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Music In Darkness (aka: Musik i morker) is Ingmar Bergman's third film as a director, made at a time before he was allowed to let his misery get the better of him. For the most part it is a conventional drama, a love story, but it does have a number of curious moments, not least during the opening minutes. Pre-credits and there are 30 seconds of music in darkness, unnecessariness one immediately surmises, but then you have to remember that it would have been lights down in the cinema when your eyes have yet to adjust to the gloom and it might have impressed upon some contemporary viewers the situation of the protagonist when it comes.

Bengt Vyldeke (Birger Malmsten) is in the army, raising and lowering targets on a firing range during submachine gun practice. It is the immediate postwar period and in a sequence reminiscent of the butterfly scene from All Quiet On The Western Front, he advances up some steps out of the trench to prevent the Andrex cuddliest of dog pups becoming the victim of friendly fire. It is he, however, who is struck by the bullets. Unconscious, he enters a dreamscape. A backdrop curtain with an eye projected onto it is followed by a struggle with grabbing hands and arms of mud depicting his fight for life.

His recovery is seen as an undersea rise to the surface of the water past a giant guppy while a posing, naked mermaid. The surrealism is a knock at the demolished fascist movement which a few years earlier would have set upon the sequence as degenerate art, destroying it, and possibly its maker. Bengt recovers but is blind. His girlfriend ditches him. Mai Zitterling is Ingrid, a local girl who enters the family courtyard in need of a church organist for the funeral of her father. She joins the household as a maid, a young girl with a crush on the blind pianist. She is ebullient, eager, impetuous and quite delightful with an infectious smile.

She is not unlike the protagonist of the later Summer With Monika, but unlike Monika she remains a positive spirit, though the story is not taken as far down the path of relationship that Summer With Monika did. He picks up on her crush quite quickly but the importance in recovering his life, a career in music under threat, frustrates him when his talent is clearly dealt with as secondary to his disability. Where some see the class differences as the obstacle to Bengt romancing the maid, his parents are not beholden to such constraints and nudge him in that very direction. Their pleasant approval is badly timed given his anger about his curtailed career plans and he snaps back, with words that are overheard by the disappointed Ingrid.

He takes a job in the city in a restaurant and is ripped off by those around him. The boy he entrusts to reading his mail exchanges tenners for fivers. Or is it his employer pulling a fast one? One day he overhears Ingrid's voice. She is in the city studying to become a teacher. He learns why she has not responded to his letters and he apologises, had completely forgotten the comment. The words that had ingrained themselves in her memory were angrily shot out and lost in the moment for Bengt. She is seeing someone else and he is now reduced to tuning pianos, which he deems less debasing than playing at the restaurant.

The piano tuning was perhaps the only remaining option if he was still under contract to public performance with his last employer. A married man ends up in the same mission as Bengt, having suddenly lost his sight and fearing he will lose his wife also because of the disablement. Bengt counsels him and when the wife agrees to collect him Bengt accompanies the man to the station. She greets her husband without a word, they sink into one another in a loving crush and slip away silently, he in his relief completely forgetting his friend, she clearly ignorant to him as they were never introduced. Bengt is hit hard by this negligence, sore at the lack of a love in his life as it is. In his upset he stumbles out onto the rail tracks in a frightening episode with trains coming from every direction. Ingrid still has strong feelings for him and he secures them by using his blindness to rile the boyfriend into attacking him. Following the assault the lover knows there can be no excuse for a big man setting upon a disabled man and no chance of his reclaiming Ingrid now.

There is lightness and dark in the film, and, of course, darkness is everything that can be expected of Bergman. It is a noir love story, mostly set at night, though occasionally the bitter and bright winter's days are conceded to. There is some great dialogue along the way. Zitterling's shift from avid child to maturity is perfect. There is also terrific character support throughout. It feels a bit disjointed, the tricks and surrealism of the early part of the film set against the routinely classical Hollywood up close stylings. The little jumps forward in narrative have a sudden effectiveness. The perceived deliberacy of Bengt pushing his love rival to fight him strikes as novel, and is conniving and a little unfair on the victim. Heavy it isn't and, where Bergman is concerned, that is one great relief.

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