Crisis ★★★★

Although it would be difficult for this film or any film to compare to the masterpieces of Bergman's later career, Crisis remains a staggering directorial debut, showcasing many of the concerns, themes, and strengths of his later work.

One one level it is a contrast between invidious city and innocent countryside, and therefore might superficially be compared to Sunrise. In his first film, however, Bergman has already far surpassed any such shallow morality play, diving straight into the depths of moral ambiguity for which he is famous.

The characters in the city are never fully indicted, nor are the characters in the country ever fully acquitted. Instead, despite the film's brief runtime, they are surprisingly well-developed, showing both the realistic and casual cruelty which is so common in relationships in Bergman (and so unparalleled elsewhere), as well as unexpected acts of genuine kindness. Crisis probes moral questions without ever becoming moralizing, and in this way shares some characteristics with film noir (in fact the film on the whole is more noir-ish than most of his work). However, unlike noir, his characters are not tragic heroes surrounded by villainous foils and unlikely problems, but rather each is internally complex dealing with everyday problems. In other words, the characters are more thoroughly human than the vast majority of characters from the rest of the whole of film history.

Like most of his films, then, it is heavily character driven, favouring conversation over incident and therefore having little in the way of conventional narrative arc. Yet it still manages some very memorable dramatic scenes (which I won't spoil) in addition to its superlative dialogue.

Although this pre-dates Bergman's collaboration with Sven Nyquist by seven years, the cinematography is striking as well, and foreshadows some of the breathtaking shots of his later work.

Bergman wasted no time in his career, and in Crisis--at the age of twenty-four--he takes on themes that his name would subsequently come to signify: loneliness and exploitation, selfishness and self-sacrifice, despair and hope, murder and suicide, transgression and forgiveness. Conspicuously absent is any mention of religion, which would come to the fore in Bergman's "Silence of God" trilogy a few decades later. However its presence can be felt even in this early film, and this early film already shows evidence of Bergman's unique mixture of philosophical investigations, gripping drama, and great entertainment.