After the screen goes blank at the end of this film, I knew I had to see it again. So, I turned the commentary track on and started it all over. It is a layered mysterious and personal work of art. Everything about it is down right fascinating. The two main characters (or are they one…I think they are two) are just perfect. The talkative, somewhat naive in the beginning, Alma is nursing the actress who refuses to talk, Elizabet, in a nice beach home. That sounds so…boring. That plot is nothing more than a setup to get these two individuals into a place where one can talk about very personal and private things and for the other to just listen and maybe judge. Indeed the highlights of this film are the long monologues that Bibi Andersson (Alma) delivers with such moving conviction. The best is certainly her description of a beach orgy she had with two young boys! On the other end of the spectrum, we have the actress, Elisabet (Liv Ullman) who barely says a couple of words in the whole movie. She is just there, silent, immovable like a scientist studying Alma. Why she stops talking, it is unclear. Maybe because of the horrors in the world she sees. Or it could be because she feels guilty abandoning her son with relatives. I’m not sure.
All that is made even more intriguing by the style, or styles, that Bergman uses. From the opening scene, the ‘burning’ of the reel, the enchanting vampire-like misty sequence with the two women’s necks intersecting, the way the actors sometimes seem like they are winking at us and looking directly at the camera, all the way to end in a similar fashion as it started. this is one movie that never lets you in on whatever is going on in it’s head. Whether you take it literally or see a lot of symbolism in it, it is a great film.