There's two ways “The Passion Of Anna” (released in Sweden under the less exclusionist title, “Passion”) can be viewed: in the eyes of Bergmanites, it's a radical, triumphant work of deconstructionist cinema; or because of the real-life break-up between director Ingmar Bergman and star Liv Ullman, it's a therapeutic exercise, affected by major creative blocks.
Even co-star Erland Josephson admits in his interview segments for the DVD's documentary that some of Bergman's impulsive ideas harmed the final film, citing on-camera mock interviews with the four stars, edited into the film; tearing the viewer away from the drama, it's either a distraction, or a delightful twist in a film that's actually more challenging than “Persona.”
“Passion” also bears a few odd stylistic similarities with Radley Metzger's “The Lickerish Quartet” (1970). The inclusion of actors commenting on their characters between their own scenes recalls Metzger's own parable of characters trapped in a series of revolving roles within multiple scenes and media; the lines between performer and character, initially jarring, start to blur in “Passion,” with Bergman's interconnected quartet each lacking a level of passion. Unlike Metzger's positive-charged film, however, Bergman's characters grope for desperate affection; efforts reciprocated with rather pitiful energy. More interesting is Josephson's iconic windmill that houses his only true passion: a collection of obsessive photographs chronicling other people's disintegrating lives; in Metzger's variation, his wealthy counterpart maintains a library of sexual aggression as a catalyst, with profanity ominously plastered across the floor.
To help viewers a little, MGM engaged Elliott Gould to read the novella Bergman gave to his actors, and the four-part rendition on the disc, with an explanatory intro using quotes from the director, offers some fascinating glimpses into the director's vision and writing style.
Marc Gervais' commentary track is fairly adequate, though it's a bit unsettling when he suddenly realizes a dream sequence uses footage from “Shame” (given he wrote a hefty tome on Bergman's films).
That's where the documentary excels, with surviving cast members providing a good background on Bergman's troubled efforts to focus and find a suitable conclusion. Ullman also chimes in about her break with Bergman before filming, and there's some good material on the improvised dinner scene, and the movie's famous last shot. (Save the trailer until last, as the misleading murder-mystery campaign blows it.)
The additional interview segments are more unofficial Easter Eggs, but they close the disc on a more uplifting note. Actor Josephson discusses his continuing friendship with Bergman, while Andersson describes Bergman's artistry and luster. Ullman provides the most amusing closer, recalling her favourite pet dog who evolved into a exceptionally crafty critter.
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