Thursday, 13 December 2007

Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen, 1968)

Ingmar Bergman’s Vargtimmen (Hour of the Wolf) was made in 1968. It opens with Alma, the wife of an artist, telling us about his disappearance. They had moved to a lonely cottage on an island. She had found his diary, and she then recounts the events described in his diary. The audience is therefore getting her interpretation of his interpretation of events, and the audience then adds a third layer of interpretation. As a result the film is unusually ambiguous. The artist, Johan, is troubled by nightmares. His nightmares and his memories are so entwined that is difficult to know which of the events shown in the film might actually have happened and which are purely the products of his troubled imagination. To make thing even more ambiguous, Alma implies that she had started also to see what she referred to as his ghosts. Did she start to share his madness? Or were some of these nightmarish incidents real?

The film is absolutely dripping with gothic atmosphere and imagery. There is a castle on the island, or at least we’re told there is, but we can’t really say for sure that it really exists. The black-and-white cinematography by Sven Nykvist is both ravishing and deeply disturbing. Most of the time the images seem fairly realistic in themselves but every now and then Bergman throws in a piece of true nightmare imagery, like the man who walks up the walls. Or a particularly alarming scene involving a woman’s face (I won’t spoilt it by telling you any more). At the end of the movie you’re left feeling that you really need to watch it again. Does it qualify as a real horror movie? I think it does. Quite apart from the horror of madness there’s the constant feeling that the world of nightmare and the world of everyday reality are bleeding into each other, and there’s also the ever-present feeling that Alma is in real danger. A very unsettling movie. I highly recommend it.

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