Thursday, 30 August 2012

A Woman's Face (1938) Starring Ingrid Bergman

I recently acquired the Swedish film collection of Ingrid Bergman's Swedish films. To commemorate her Birthday the other day, I watched her dramatic departure from "girl-next-door" roles, A Woman's Face (1938). Remade in hollywood in 1940 with Joan Crawford, A Woman's Face was a huge success and established Ingrid Bergman as a member of a group of only a few elite actors.

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Brutally disfigured in a fire as a child, Anna Holm (Ingrid Bergman) has nothing to live for. No family, no money, and - she thinks - with a face like hers, no friends. She works at a blackmail "firm" with two men who hunt out blackmail opportunities. It is on one of her trips to secure a deal that she meets plastic surgeon, Dr Wegert. He offers to correct her facial disfigurement and to help restore her past joy and positive outlook on life.

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With her new face and her new identity (Miss Anna Paulsson), Anna sets out to take the job of Governess as part of a new blackmail scheme without informing her firm. She gets to the far away Swedish countryside and meets her new family. They like her, and with a bit of effort they make her happy again. She adores the boy she is to look after, Lars-Erik, and she is falling in love with his uncle, Harald Berg.

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One day, Torsten Barring (the man who masterminded a scheme for Anna so that she can kill Lars-Erik who is standing between him and a large inheritance) appears and they get trapped in a vicious circle of blackmail. This makes Anna worried and depressed again.

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Soon after, in a sleigh accident, Anna confesses all to Harald. Can they make their relationship around forgotten lies?

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This film was absolutely fantastic. Since this came in a box set only publicised for having "A Young Ingrid Bergman" in it, I wasn't expecting a masterpiece. I was pleasantly surprised. The script was well written with many diversions into the identities of members of the family and their relationships with each other. It was well paced and interesting to watch.

Being blackmailed there much, dearie?
Gustaf Molander, the director and "mastermind" behind the whole 30s Swedish film industry, is a genius. He picked out Ingrid at a young age to appear in his films on his instinct that she was - or could become - a great actress. His use of light is film-noir before there even was film-noir. The way he sets up the film so that for the first few scenes we don't even see Anna's face. It is always covered by her hair, a hat, or a shadow. I particularly liked a scene when Lars-Erik asks Anna to kiss him goodnight and it's probably the first time she's ever had affectionate contact with someone and she is so changed. The lighting is beautiful here.

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And of course, what can we even say about Ingrid Bergman? It made me see her in yet another new light hearing her in Swedish. Her body movements and physical characterisations of Anna were incredible. She uses the gesture to cover her face perfectly. Always at the right time and with the right intensity. Her emotional build-up is great, you can see her gradually becoming a new person. In the scene at the beginning where she smashes the mirror, you feel all her bitterness and sadness over the years has gathered up and had to be released in only that way.

One thing that struck me, I don't think any other actress would have done it - maybe it sounds silly - but when the bandage is on she keeps feeling it sensitively, almost as a replacement for the covering of her face she used to do. Anyway, it's a wonderful performance. She also looks beautiful in this, before she was even slightly altered by the Hollywood Studios.

The whole of the supporting cast have interesting parts to play, and for that you can see Molander has chosen interesting actors. I loved the relationship between Lars-Erik's grandfather and his maid. The child actor who played Lars-Erik was adorable. So sweet! The man who played Harald was also good - his character was somewhat spineless so you couldn't expect a bravado performance from him.

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I would totally recommend this film to anyone, especially an Ingrid Bergman fan. She gives a great performance, and the film as a whole is fabulous. The only way to get hold of it, however, is through the "Ingrid Bergman In Sweden" boxed set.



readerman said...

This film sounds really interesting. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. She looks intense in the last photo above. Who doesn't love Bergman? I just caught her in Hitchcock's Under Capricorn last night for the first time. Neither of their best, but I'm glad I finally watched it. said...

Great post! I also like the gif pictures, nice!

rockfish said...

Wonderful review of this hidden (to most North American Bergman fans) treasure! Great use of gifs, too!

Deon Narine said...

Directed by George Cukor, starring Joan Crawford, Melvyn Douglas, a woman's face is an excellent movie of 1938.

Javier Bardem

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing.

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