Prison ★★★★

The earliest Bergman film I've seen to date, and just three years into his career he has a sophistication and imagination to his style that can be mistaken for no one else. The story is rather grim and even hackneyed, about two couples with bad power dynamics falling apart and a short-lived love affair resulting, all this framed by the musings of a young film director and his all-knowing teacher; poking fun at it, especially if your attitude toward arthouse cinema is less than reverent, would be like shooting fish in a barrel. Even from my end, I can see even in such an early title how someone could absolutely detest Bergman's sensibility, though I'd strongly argue with anyone who declared it pretentious -- if anything, it's almost too direct in its myriad tragedies and impossibly high interpersonal stakes (an unexpected pregnancy, a murder, an evil pimp and a suicide are involved along with routine abuse wrought upon women by men, all of whom are cads except -- shockingly -- the filmmaker), surreal but expository dream sequences and queries about the ambivalence of the moral universe. Yet I also see it laid out just why Bergman's always spoken to me: I cannot fault anyone with such a deep and unwavering belief in living inside his own emotions, projecting them onscreen without filtering; it's brave and admirable, but maybe appreciating it requires a certain level of self-absorption and moodiness. I guess the lie is given by my own weird response to this film: the things that happen in it are unfathomably tragic and unfair, as the script itself keeps stating directly, yet in a strange way its whole world is hypnotic and inviting to me, a place I want to return to like a sad but beautiful pop song. I love this sort of thing and I won't apologize for it. Plus it looks amazing, the sets and cinematography and location work in Stockholm, just intoxicating and as beautiful as any Hollywood film noir title I can think of.

- I prefer the U.S. title The Devil's Wanton; it just seems more evocative! Note that the story idea the old teacher proposes in the prologue is essentially the original premise of Lars von Trier's Antichrist.
- Nearly twenty years before Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451, a credits sequence that's entirely spoken. (I feel as if there's another earlier example of this I'm forgetting, though.)
- The IMDB plot keyword "slapstick comedy" is not a lie, as this film that involves child murder also finds time for an actual imitation of 1910s silent comedy, found in an attic and screened on a wall, and it's surprisingly credible and frenetic, and contains a physical manifestation of Satan, so it's not 100% out of character either.