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Sawdust and Tinsel
cast: Anderson, Ake Grönberg, Hasse Ekman, and Annika Tretow

director: Ingmar Bergman

96 minutes (15) 1953
artan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 9/10
reviewed by Jim Steel
This film is also known as The Naked Night (originally, Gycklarnas afton) and has been described as a pointless film about two unpleasant people. Oh, but it's much more than that. The cast and photography are excellent throughout, and one of the keys to the film is in a jaunty vignette near the beginning that is shot like a silent movie.

Sometime around a hundred years ago, the Alberti Circus is travelling towards the hometown of the middle-aged ringmaster, Albert (Ake Grönberg) and he is talking about seeing his family for the first time in three years. One of the other circus members warns him that things might go badly wrong. He then narrates the story of Frost the clown. Frost was essentially destroyed as a man when his wife carried on with artillerymen who were stationed near the circus. The bawdy tale turns black and the wife accuses the circus of destroying her husband. She loved Frost and had no wish to see him crushed. The rest of the film deals with the destructive potential of relationships. It should be pointed out that Albert has just left the bed of his young girlfriend, Anne (Harriet Anderson).

The circus is destitute. It has little food or fuel and has recently had to abandon its costumes. The animals and people are miserable. There is, however, a theatre in town, and Albert and Anne set out to see if they could borrow costumes for the performance. This gives Bergman a chance to bring his two great passions of cinema and theatre together, but the stage gets no favours from him. Its people are as debased as those of the circus. Sjuberg, the theatre director (played with great verve by Gunnar Bj´┐Żrnstrand), delivers a brilliant and cruel monologue that trashes the aspirations of all circuses before consenting to lend them what they need. It is one of several scenes that show actors using their skills outside of their art.

Then, in a cute reversal, Bergman has a couple of characters attempting to run away from the circus. Albert goes to see his family, hoping that his wife will take him back. However, there in no longer any place for him. His boys barely recognise him, and Agda (Annika Tretow) is making a success of the family shop. She doesn't have any rancour concerning Albert. There is not even that left for him.

Anne, meanwhile, in a fit of jealousy, goes to see one of the actors, Frans (Hasse Ekman), who caught her eye earlier. He merely plays with her. He gives her tips on make-up and perfume and, when she tries to impress him with her circus skills, fails to realise that he is laughing at her. She is reduced to begging him to take her on any terms that he wants, only to find that he regards her as worthless.

Sawdust And Tinsel builds towards the circus performance in the evening, and a confrontation between the town and the performers. In the end, the show must go on because there is nothing else left to do. It's a bleak piece, from many angles, set up perfectly by a dark and ominous score, but there is enough humour woven through it to keep the despair from overpowering the viewer. And technically it is very hard to fault. It is extremely well made.

The extras consist of the option of turning off the subtitles, and trailers for Persona and Autumn Sonata.

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