Sunday, November 28, 2010

"Films from the Darkest Hour: Europe, 1942-1943": Jeremi Szaniawski on Torment

Torment / Hets (Alf Sjöberg, 1944, Sweden, 101 minutes)
Screening: 9:00 PM, Friday, December 3, 53 Wall Street, New Haven

Torment, Ingmar Bergman’s first produced screenplay, is a dark coming-of-age drama about a high school senior, Jan-Erik Widgren (Alf Kjellin), terrorized by his sadistic Latin teacher, nicknamed Caligula (Stig Järrel). Caligula also happens to be involved in a weird and lurid relationship with Widgren’s lover, the troubled Bertha (Mai Zetterling), a petty store clerk with a taste for alcohol and rather loose morals. When Caligula’s schemes and sick games occasion tragedy, it is uncertain as to whether any good can come for the tormenter’s victim. Torment, whose Swedish title Hets in fact translates as “incitement” or “baiting,” thus shifting the focus of attention from the suffering of the characters to the nature of the film’s actual protagonist, deals not only with the constrictions of Swedish bourgeois society, but also, however cryptically, with the demons of Nazism and totalitarianism at large. A tale of the uneven fight between the all-powerful and profoundly iniquitous teacher and the mass of alienated, powerless students, the film often teeters on the borderline between nightmare and reality, while the cinematography, informed in places by German expressionism, helps to further the allegory, in line with the theses of Siegfried Kracauer. Still, since Caligula is as much a Caligari-figure (the names’ quasi homonymy cannot be pure coincidence) as he is inspired by The Blue Angel’s loathed, yet tragic Professor (Un) Rath, nothing is ever all black or white in this harrowing psychological tale.


Unknown said...

Thanks for this info. I'd love to get hold of this film. Any suggestions as to how or where?

Michael J. Anderson said...

Yes, the film is widely available in the Early Bergman box set on Criterion's Eclipse label.