A darker cousin of “Persona,” “Hour of the Wolf” maintains a more familiar structure – eerie sequences told in flashback by the artist's widow (Liv Ullman) – but moves away from the emotionally vulnerable confessions of the former, as the lying, secretive, emotionally dying painter (Max Von Sydow in his first paring with Ullman) loses the ability to discern reality, but is sufficiently cognitive of his actions to clinically observe the effects on his loyal wife.
With Ullman's on-camera recollections, a shock finale, and the film's exquisite black & white photography (including a single matchstick for one particularly chilling scene), there's a particular similarity to Jack Clayton's classic 1961 shocker, “The Innocents.” Like the funeral nightmare in “Wild Strawberries,” Bergman's ‘snake bite' sequence is shot in brutally harsh black & white, but the rocky outcroppings and Lars Johan Werle's hornet-swirling underscore recall the surreal mud valley sequence in Alejandro Jodorowsky's “Fando & Lis” (in terms of whacked-out soundscape and physical textures, there's an indirect similarity). Even a watery grave owes a special nod to Hitchcock's audience teasing, where Norman Bates waits for the damn car to sink beneath the lake surface.
Marc Gervais' commentary is less vague than his contribution for “Persona,” though what's really missing are some bio sketches for the actors with factual specifics, the production's history, and some historical context with Bergman's other works. Gervais notes Bergman's nods to German expressionism and the clever casting of an actor with a chilling Bela Lugosi visage; Gervais also provides a good breakdown of Bergman's obsession with the suffering artist syndrome on film – taken to horrific extremes in “Hour” – but given his lengthy published work, “Ingmar Bergman: Magician & Prophet,” which spans the director's entire career, it's rather peculiar the author maintains such a narrow examination of the film. There's a lot of generalities, and for a biographer/academician to eschew hard facts in favour of silent gaps for such a unique film, either Gervais simply came unprepared for his 90-minute narrative, or suffers from a case of Schickelian over-confidence.
The included making-of featurette fills in some of the aforementioned voids, using interviews with actors Liv Ullman & Erland Josephson, author Gervais, and numerous stills. Two galleries of production stills and publicity art not only reveal the laughter present on the spooky set, but one particularly shocking visage – eyes blackened by harsh shadows, primal maw wide open – that must have inspired the brilliant poster art for Dario Argento's “Suspiria” – another tale whose shock ending is preceded by memorably theatrical sequences.
An additional series of interview material with Josephson adds some early theatre memories with Bergman from 1939, and Ullman makes a rather brutally honest acknowledgement relating to matters of the heart with director Bergman – a rather suitable closing statement for such a dark little film.
This title is available separately, or as part of the Ingmar Bergman Collection that includes the films "The Serpent's Egg", "Persona", "Shame", "The Passion Of Anna", "Hour Of The Wolf," and a Bonus Disc.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan