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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Passion of Anna (En Passion) (1969)

"What kind of poison corrodes the best in us, leaving only the shell?"
- Eva Vergerus (Bibi Andersson)

Review By: Robert Edwards   
Published: February 08, 2004

Stars: Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson
Director: Ingmar Bergman

MPAA Rating: R
Run Time: 01h:40m:42s
Release Date: February 10, 2004
UPC: 027616867896
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C+ B-A-A- A

DVD Review

In the second half of the 1960s, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman made a series of four films exploring the themes of existentialism, despair, and the impossibility of happiness. As can be guessed, they're among his darkest works, requiring a certain amount of indulgence and patience on the part of the viewer if they're to be fully appreciated. That attention is richly rewarded, certainly in the case of the first three films in the cycle, although less so in the case of The Passion of Anna.

There are four protagonists: Andreas (Max von Sydow), who has encountered some difficulties in his past and is essentially in hiding, far from the long arms of the law; Elis (Gunnar Björnstrand), a successful architect who's married to Eva (Bibi Andersson); and Anna (Liv Ullmann), whose husband and child died several years previously in a horrific car accident. Andreas gets to know the other three (who all live together) by chance, and is charmed by their sophistication and the bonhomie he feels in their presence. Over the course of the next year or so, we observe the characters as their emotions and relationships become intertwined and eventually undone.

It's a curious film. Gone are the tight structure and careful construction of most of Bergman's films, to be replaced by a loose, almost lackadaisical approach to plot and story. Certainly, there is character and plot development, but it seems unplanned, almost as if Bergman were making it up as he went along. While there's a certain pleasure in the unpredictability of the film (as opposed to the typical Hollywood film, where the audience can usually guess the outcome after seeing the first ten minutes), the narrative jolts and longueurs make this the least interesting of these four films.

Bergman was still exploring modernism and distanciation during this period, and he uses several devices in The Passion of Anna. The camera repeatedly scans slowly, obsessively, over the contents of a letter from Anna's deceased husband, and the film is interrupted four times by interviews with the actors, each discussing their interpretation of their characters. While the latter is certainly effective in bringing the viewer out of his or her involvement with the story and realizing that the film is a constructed object, it seems forced and artificial, unlike the distanciation techniques that Bergman used so masterfully a few years earlier in Persona. Bergman also uses a clip from his previous film, Shame, in an apparent nod to his fans and critics.

If there's one consistent element in all of Bergman, it's the strength of the performances, and this film is no exception. It's Max von Sydow's turn to shine, as we see both his desperate cruelty and his tender solicitude, in a magnificent performance. Liv Ullmann is also outstanding as Anna, whose passion conceals darker emotions within. Especially striking is a scene in which she describes her previous marriage, its ups and downs, and the accident that ended it all. Bergman films her in close-up, without cuts, in a monologue that goes on for nearly five minutes. The unwavering intensity of such a scene might overwhelm a lesser actress, but Ullmann is fully up to the task, and it's riveting to watch her work. And we finally get to see her stunning blue eyes in color!

In the end, this is not one of Bergman's best works. While Sven Nykvist's cinematography is beautiful (as always), and the acting is great (as always), the loose, jarring narrative and sometimes pretentious dialogue show a certain self-indulgence on Bergman's part. If you're new to Bergman, or just want to buy a single film from MGM's boxed set, skip this one.

Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.66:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The transfer is very good, with strong colors and accurate fleshtones. There's a lot of detail in the image, and the source print contains occasional speckles. For the most part, grain is not a problem, although it does pop up in the occasional darker scene.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Swedish, Spanishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The mono sound is fine, with no trace of harshess or hiss. While limited in fidelity, it's perfectly serviceable, and the occasional sound effects come through clearly.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Bergman biographer Marc Gervais
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Audio Book - Original Story Reading by Elliott Gould
  2. Printed insert with chapter listing
Extras Review: While The Passion of Anna is probably the least interesting film in MGM's The Ingmar Bergman Collection boxed set, its supplements are the most insightful and revealing of the lot. Liv Ullman's 4m:05s interview is an amusing anecdote about her dachshund "Pet", and reveals the truth about the writing behind Bergman's films. In the 4m:53s allotted to Bibi Andersson, she comments on Bergman's dedication to his art, how the filmmaking climate in Sweden has changed and how it has affected her, and explains why it's not a good idea to invite Bergman to dinner. Erland Josephson speaks of his enduring friendship with Bergman in his brief (2m:25s) interview.

The Photo Gallery consists of the Swedish release poster and 17 production photos, which are duplicated from the Supplemental Materials disc. The U.S. theatrical trailer is in poor shape, with scratchy sound and a damaged source print, but the transfer is adequate.

University of Montreal film professor Marc Gervais contributes the commentary track, as he does for most of the films in the set. It's probably his least interesting talk, which is fair enough because there's simply less the say about this film than the others. He places it in the context of Bergman's other "disintegration" films from the 1960s, and discusses how the film reveals aspects of Bergman's character and personal life. The deconstructive elements of the film are analyzed, including the last shot of the film, where the image of Andreas is gradually obliterated, but this shot is almost certainly an optical effect and not a simple zoom as Gervais claims.

The documentary, Disintegration of Passion, is a bit shorter than the rest in the set, but follows the same format: clips from the film, interview snippets with the actors, comments by Gervais, and excerpts from a 1970 Bergman interview. Gervais mostly repeats observations from his commentary, but the remarks by the other actors provide insights into Bergman's unhappiness at the time, his hesitancies during filming, questionable use of improvisation, and indecision at including the interview segments in the film. If you can ignore the inclusion of the unrelated segments from the 1970 Bergman interview, this is a revealing, insightful documentary.

There's one supplement that breaks away from the formula used on the discs in this set: Elliott Gould reading the story treatment on which The Passion of Anna was based. Bergman typically writes out a detailed version of the story before shooting begins, then shares it with his cast and crew, who use it as a basis for their work. Over the course of more than an hour and a half, Gould reads the story, and it provides a fascinating glimpse into Bergman's working methods.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

Ingmar Bergman's The Passion of Anna, despite its excellent performances and lovely cinematography, is loosely plotted and rather self-indulgent. Although the transfer is good and valuable extras are included on the disc, there are far better Bergman films out there.


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