Ingmar Bergman: Four Masterworks [4 Discs] [Criterion Collection] [DVD]

The death of Ingmar Bergman in 2007 served as a reminder to many film enthusiasts that despite his strong influence on several generations of filmmakers, there has never been an artist in the cinema quite like Bergman in his cool but vivid embrace of the inner emotional landscape and subtle but dramatic images, and the enduring strength of his finest work hasn't been dimmed by the passage of time. Since they opened for business in 1984, The Criterion Collection have released superb editions of several of Bergman's important films for home video collectors, and Ingmar Bergman: Four Masterworks is a box set featuring four of the director's crucial titles -- Smiles Of A Summer Night, The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries and The Virgin Spring. All four films appear in the same editions as they were released individually by Criterion except for The Seventh Seal, which instead is represented in a bare-bones version without bonus features. (In January 2008, Criterion posted a message on their web site stating that the no-frills version of The Seventh Seal was included with the Four Masterworks set in error, and their standard edition would be included in future shipments.) All four movies have been transferred to disc in their original full-frame aspect ratio of 1.33.1, and all look strong on disc, though The Seventh Seal isn't quite as sharp as the others and the elements for the films show light damage in spots. All four features are presented in their original Swedish with optional English subtitles, though The Virgin Spring also includes an alternate soundtrack subbed into English; the audio for all four films is mastered in Dolby Digital Mono. Smiles Of A Summer Night also includes a conversation between writers Peter Cowie and Jorn Donner (the latter also a friend and colleague of Bergman) as they talk about the film and its importance in the filmmaker's body of work, as well as an introduction to the film Bergman shot for a Swedish television broadcast and the picture's original trailer. Essays by Pauline Kael and John Simon are reprinted in the accompanying booklet. Cowie also appears in the bonus materials for Wild Strawberries, providing an alternate commentary track for the picture and penning an essay included in the booklet; the disc also features a gallery of production stills, and Ingmar Bergman on Life and Work, a 90-minute television interview with Bergman (conducted by Jorn Donner) which touches on both his professional and personal lives. The Virgin Spring includes audio excerpts from an talk Bergman gave to students at the American Film Institute in 1975 that deals with both the art and the practicalities of filmmaking; also featured on the disc are new interviews with cast members Gunnel Lindblom and Birgitta Pettersson, an introduction from filmmaker Ang Lee, and a dry but informative commentary track from film historian Birgitta Steene. The booklet features an essay from Cowie, notes from screenwriter Ulla Isaksson, a letter Bergman wrote to American censors protesting the trimming of the film's rape scene for United States release, and a translation of the Medieval ballad that was the basis of the story. Despite the presence of The Seventh Seal in a less-than-definitive edition, these are four brilliant works from one of the most important filmmakers of the 20th Century, and anyone with a serious interest in the cinema should see them; if you're a cineaste who wants to own these movies, this is a fine and convenient way to fill out your Bergman collection (and all four pictures are also available individually).
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Special Features

  • Restored digital transfers
  • Audio commentaries by film scholars Peter Cowie (The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries) Birgitta Steene (The Virgin Spring)
  • Video introduction by Bergman on Smiles of a Summer Night
  • Video introduction by filmmaker Ang Lee on The Virgin Spring
  • Ingmar Bergman on Life and Work, a 90-minute documentary by filmmaker and author Jörn Donner

Synopsis

Smiles of a Summer Night
Bergman's comic masterpiece opens with middle-aged lawyer Frederik Egerman (Gunnar Bjornstrand) again failing to consummate his marriage with the much younger Anne (Ulla Jacobsson). While visiting a former lover, actress Desiree Armfeldt (Eva Dahlbeck), he crosses swords with her current lover, Count Malcolm (Jarl Kulle), after both men learn that Frederik is the father of her illegitimate child. At Desiree's behest, her mother invites Egerman, the Count, and their wives along with Egerman's grown son, Henrik (Björn Bjelvenstam) to her manor house for the weekend. Before their departure, divinity student Henrik wards off the eager advances of the housemaid by reading from the Bible aloud, but it seems clear that he and Anne are quite taken with one another. After arriving at the Ryarp estate the guests are served a dinner spiked with a love potion which provokes swift reactions. The bewildered Frederik becomes aware of the increasingly intense bond between Henrik and Anne, and the Countess (Margit Carlquist) makes a public bet with her husband that she can seduce Frederik. Shocked by the dinner-table conversation, the strait-laced Henrik retires to his room to commit suicide. In the course of his bumbling attempt, he has the good fortune to learn why so many prefer sex to death. ~ Michael Costello, Rovi

The Virgin Spring
Inspired by a medieval Swedish ballad, Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukallan) begins with a scene of unspeakable brutality and ends with an image of uncommon beauty. 15-year-old Birgitta Peterson, on her way to church to light candles for the Virgin Mary, is raped and murdered by two older men. The men look for shelter at the home of Birgitta's father (Max Von Sydow), who murders the bestial killers in cold blood. When the deed is done, Von Sydow, a deeply religious man, begins to question the efficacy of a God that would allow his daughter's death, then permit so bloody a retribution. Then, a fresh, virgin spring bubbles from the ground where his daughter had been lying a few moments before. Taking this natural phenonenon as a sign from above, Von Sydow vows to erect a church on the spot where Birgitta met her doom. The winner of the "best foreign picture" Academy Award, The Virgin Spring currently exists in several versions of varying lengths; the longest, and most graphic, is the original Swedish cut. Believe it or not, this hauntingly beautiful film served as the basis of The Last House on the Left (1972). ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Seventh Seal
Endlessly imitated and parodied, Ingmar Bergman's landmark art movie The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde Inseglet) retains its ability to hold an audience spellbound. Bergman regular Max von Sydow stars as a 14th century knight named Antonius Block, wearily heading home after ten years' worth of combat. Disillusioned by unending war, plague, and misery Block has concluded that God does not exist. As he trudges across the wilderness, Block is visited by Death (Bengt Ekerot), garbed in the traditional black robe. Unwilling to give up the ghost, Block challenges Death to a game of chess. If he wins, he lives -- if not, he'll allow Death to claim him. As they play, the knight and the Grim Reaper get into a spirited discussion over whether or not God exists. To recount all that happens next would diminish the impact of the film itself; we can observe that The Seventh Seal ends with one of the most indelible of all of Bergman's cinematic images: the near-silhouette "Dance of Death." Considered by some as the apotheosis of all Ingmar Bergman films (other likely candidates for that honor include Wild Strawberries and Persona), and certainly one of the most influential European art movies, The Seventh Seal won a multitude of awards, including the Special Jury Prize at the 1957 Cannes Film Festival. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Wild Strawberries
After exploring his disillusionment with religion in his previous films, Ingmar Bergman adopted a humanistic approach for this classic study in isolationism. Legendary Scandinavian director Victor Sjöström stars as Isak Borg, an aging medical professor who reassesses his life while journeying to his former university to receive an honorary degree. Borg travels with his estranged daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin) and revisits many of the landmarks of his past, conjuring up memories of his family and of his onetime sweetheart Sara (Bibi Andersson). Returning to the present, he meets a teenage girl who resembles the long-departed Sara. She hitches a ride with the professor and Marianne, as do a ceaselessly bickering married couple. These new characters eventually become intertwined with Borg's hazy flashbacks and fantasies, as the old man recalls the disappointments and disillusionments that have left him cold and guilt-ridden, attributes emphasized when he encounters his equally cold and resentful son. Bookending Borg's odyssey of self-discovery are a series of symbolic images at the beginning of the film (a clock without hands, a man without a face) and a hauntingly beautiful finale, in which professor is beckoned back to the "perfect" world he left behind so many years earlier. This classic art movie remains one of Bergman's most accessible films and one of the most influential European art movies of its generation. Its intense focus on one man's thoughts, regrets, and memories set the tone for innumerable psychological character studies in its wake. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Ingmar Bergman on Life and Work

Cast & Crew

  • Eva Dahlbeck
    Eva Dahlbeck - Desirée Armfeldt
  • Ulla Jacobsson
    Ulla Jacobsson - Anne Egerman
  • Harriet Andersson
    Harriet Andersson - Petra, the maid
  • Image coming soon
    Margit Carlquist - Charlotte Malcolm
  • Gunnar Björnstrand
    Gunnar Björnstrand - Fredrik Egerman

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