For some reason, when I heard the term "early Bergman," I envisioned 'Music in Darkness (1948)' to be a rather primitive piece of film-making. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised, instead finding the film to be beautifully photographed by cinematographer Göran Strindberg, with all the refreshing themes and visuals we've come to expect from Sweden's master director. Bergman's fourth as director, the film is a fairly straightforward melodrama, dealing with a young man's attempts to accept a newly-acquired disability. However, the film's techniques never strike one as being sentimental or manipulative in that classic Hollywood sense; the main character is not a selfless humble martyr, nor is he a selfish tyrant who regains his humanity through the kindness of others. Indeed, Bergman paints a rather unflattering portrait of society, as his blind protagonist is regularly exploited for money, or otherwise disregarded as a useless cripple. Even the film's ending, while seemingly ideal on the surface, carries with it a sense of ambiguity, the uncertainty of a future that could easily turn awry.
When Bengt Vyldeke (Birger Malmsten) is struck blind in a military training exercise, he is plunged into a debilitating darkness that robs him of everything he's come to expect from life. As he fights death in the moments following the accident, he imagines himself clawing across darkened mudflats, as grimy, disembodied arms grope blindly at his limbs. These clutching appendages represent Bengt's devastating fall from upper-class society, as he is unceremoniously dragged into the vessel of a man who is consistently ignored, pitied and exploited for his disability. Almost immediately afterwards, Bengt is abandoned by his friends (including his girlfriend Blanche), and finds sole consolation in the home of Mrs. Schröder (Naima Wifstrand), who agrees to teach him music. It is here that Bengt comes to meet Ingrid (Mai Zetterling), a pretty young servant from "peasant stock," who forms a touching friendship with her blind master, one built on trust and understanding rather than pity. Whereas, previously, class differences would have kept the pair far apart, Bengt's disability serves as a bridge of sorts.
Throughout the film, class difference does occasionally rear its ugly head to jeopardise Bengt and Ingrid's romance at one point, he refers to her as a "little wench," not realising that she is listening to his conversation. It is only when Bengt comes to accept that his place in the world has fallen that he can appreciate and accept Ingrid as a genuine love interest, however alienating such a realisation must necessarily be. Curiously, the film's blind protagonist ultimately regains his dignity through being punched in the nose. Bengt is competing with the handsome and able-sighted Ebbe (Bengt Eklund) for Ingrid's love, but must suffer the humiliation of being totally disregarded as a potential rival. When he decides to stand up for his girl, he unexpectedly suffers a fist to the face, and this rather cowardly act from an unhandicapped man serves to liberate Bengt from his cocoon of helplessness and inconsequentiality. The marriage, when it comes, seems more an act of defiance than anything else, and the audience is left wondering whether this ill-advised gamble will ever pay off.
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In Sweden, upper-class pianist Bengt Vyldeke suffers an accident in the military drill and becomes blind. He returns to his aunt Beatrice Schröder's home and is initially supported by his sister Agneta since his fiancée Blanche has called off their engagement and his friends have abandoned him. When Agneta goes off to university, young servant Ingrid helps Bengt in his daily life and falls in love with him--until she overhears a conversation between Bengt and Beatrice in which he belittles Ingrid and calls her "little maid." Bengt travels to play piano in the restaurant of a cunning manager and finds humiliation and loneliness. Years later he meets Ingrid, who is nearing graduation, and he falls in love with her. But Ingrid has a boyfriend Ebbe (Bengt Eklund), strong and handsome, and Bengt must battle his inferiority complex to win Ingrid's love.
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December 18, 2022 at 08:07 PM