This is stark but pretty to look at drama about mental illness that I suspect won the Oscar in part because of how foreign in form and content it felt from Hollywood films at the time.
The film takes place over 24 hours and very much feels like a play. What makes it not feel like a play is the setting – an island in the Baltic in the summer.
There is little music and both it and the sound are used judiciously. Usually the dialogue is the focus but occasionally a sound – a fog horn, a helicopter – intrudes. There is really great use of light, with a few shots using shadows in really creative ways. And there are some really pretty shots including one of those shots that I absolutely love, where the character leaves the screen.
A lot of the attention in the film goes to the lead performance, and I think it’s a good one. Depictions of mental illness in older films is almost always fraught and I think whatever Andersson is portraying here – schizophrenia? – is reasonably rendered. I think she does a decent job, especially given how little we knew about this kind of thing. The rest of the cast (only three other actors) is great in far less showy roles.
I agree with Bergman that the ending isn’t the greatest, it feels a little overly hopeful. I think I would have ended it slightly earlier, with Minus looking out the door. One of my criticisms of early Bergman is he can be a little too explicit in his dialogue and I think that applies to the ending here, as well as the discussion on the boat.
But this is a well-done drama about a person’s collapse/relapse that has the added benefit of looking really pretty. I do think it looked a lot greater in contrast to the Hollywood films of 1961 than it does in restrospect.