by Allan Fish
(Sweden 1936 88m) DVD1
Seeing the flag…
d Gustav Molander w Gustav Molander, Gösta Stevens ph Äke Dahlquist ed Oscar Rosander m Heinz Provost, Robert Henning
Gösta Ekman (Holger Brandt), Inga Tidblad (Margit Brandt), Ingrid Bergman (Anita Hoffman), Erik ‘Bullen’ Burglund (Charles Möller), Britt Hagman (Ann-Marie Brandt), Hugo Björne (Thomas Stenborg), Hasse Ekman (Ake Brandt), Millan Bolander (Emma), Margarete Orth (Marie),
Imagine, sirs, if you had the choice to have one of the cinematic pantheon of goddesses descend from Mount Olympus and be your companion on a desert island. You could pick any you wanted in any role; Louise Brooks in Pandora’s Box, say, Dietrich in Morocco, Bardot in just about anything up to and including Le Mépris, Arnoul in French Can Can, whoever. All seem from another world, and not a real one. Loren saunters by, but there was always a feeling of dear Sophia being mother earth in human form. Then you think and remember a picture in your mind, of Ingrid Bergman, aged 20, coming into a room, standing in the doorway and the camera worshipping her while falling to the floor.
Easy then to think of what would follow, of the Hollywood remake, of Ilse Lund and Anna Anderson, of Salvador Dali’s dreams – and Hitchcock and Rossellini’s come to that. When she finally went to Hollywood after a whistle-stop visit back to Sweden to make June Night in 1939, it would be nearly thirty years before she’d make a film there again. That film was only two reels in an otherwise maudlin package called Stimulantia, an adaptation of de Maupassant’s ‘The Necklace’ with Ingrid opposite Gunnar Björnstrand, and which she did as a favour to Gustaf Molander, who in turn only made it to work with Ingrid again.
Molander had been retired for a decade, pushing eighty at the time, a younger contemporary of Sjöstrom and Stiller, once married to Karin Molander (the star of his Thomas Graal films and Erotikon) and who Bergman’s namesake Ingmar wrote a couple of films for in the late forties. Molander wasn’t a Bergman, or even a Sjöberg, but he was a solid craftsman who made popular films in the 1930s, including the two best Ingrid made before decamping. There was En Kvinnas Ansikte, which would later have its teeth pulled by Hollywood to be remade by Joan Crawford, and of course, Intermezzo.
It’s a simple film of thwarted illicit love, of the world famous concert violinist who leaves his wife and family for the piano prodigy, goes off to more success with her as his accompanist, has a brief idyll with in Switzerland, but who then leaves him when she realises he misses his home too much. It ends with the sort of reconciliation that would outrage modern feminists, and which can only be seen as retrospectively ironic considering Bergman herself would be cast, only a decade or so later, as the deserter when leaving her family for Roberto Rossellini.
Bergman was always that rarity, a goddess very much earth-bound, a modern day Helen who would be enough to launch 20,000 ships, let alone 10, and who really was worth starting a war over. It’s interesting also to see her opposite Gosta Ekman, one of Sweden’s biggest silent stars, memorable as Murnau’s Faust and here making a strong impression as the tortured flawed hero. Yet if by the last act Ingrid has flown the coup, she still haunts it after she’s left. Just to hear Provost and Henning’s eponymous piece (and credit to the playing of violinist Charles Barkel and pianist Stina Sundell) is to melt into her eyes and forget the outside world exists. She’d made films before, several, but Intermezzo represents that moment when the world woke up to itself, and rubbed its eyes as if thinking it a dream. And we have Molander to thank for that image, for he as much as anyone moulded her, right from her debut in his Swedenhielms in 1935, and Ingrid’s appearance in Stimulantia speaks volumes. One can almost see Gustaf and Ingrid meeting in the intervening years and Ingrid leaving him, like the sailor in France in Intermezzo, by saying “say hello to Sweden for me.” It’s not quite great, but impossible to forget.