HOUR OF THE WOLF
Despite a slow build-up, Bergman builds Hour of the Wolf most effectively to a point where he eventually arrives at outright surrealism. There then come some genuine shock images that of a man who, while nonchalantly conversing, turns and walks up the side of a wall and around the roof; the old woman who removes her hat and face then pops her eyeball into a glass of water; the other old woman who states she is over 200 years old then quickly changes it to 70 before vanishing.
Hour of the Wolfs primary question is one of the subjectivity of perception. Most of the stories in the film come relayed entirely through second-hand means pieced together from diary entries or what is told to Alma by Johan, while the entire film itself is being narrated to the filmmaker by the wife. We also never see any of Johans paintings, only have what they depict explained to us. As a result, we are never certain what is real are the increasingly bizarre happenings actual or only the imaginations of Johans haunted mind? what then of their apparent manifestation as ontological reality at the end? The epilogue is highly intriguing with Liv Ullmann directly addressing the camera and wondering what the events described on the island meant did she see what she did because she was so close to Johan that she started to see things through his eyes? Or did he die because she did not love or protect him enough? Or was it that he came to harm because of her jealousy over Veronica Vogler? As with all films of the New Wave, we are left to make up our own minds.
The story of Hour of the Wolf would appear to be one that was very autobiographical on Ingmar Bergmans part. As with Max Von Sydows character Johan, he lived for much of his life on the remote and desolate Faro Island (where the film was also shot). Liv Ullman, who was Bergmans common law wife for many years, is essentially playing herself. As she recounts in the documentary Liv & Ingmar (2012), Bergman was controlling and insisted that just the two of them live in strict isolation. He was also, she recounts, someone who suffered from insomnia and troubling dreams.
Ingmar Bergmans other ventures into fantasy have been: The Seventh Seal (1957), a profound meditation on religion with a knight meeting with Death; The Magician/The Face (1958) about a magical performing troupe who have reputed supernatural powers; the revenge film The Virgin Spring (1959); The Devils Eye (1960), a comedy about The Devil sending Don Juan to tempt a vicars wife whose purity offends him; the adaptation of Mozarts fantasy opera The Magic Flute (1975); and the family saga/ghost story Fanny and Alexander (1982).
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