(The Devil’s Wanton)
Doris Svedlund, Birger Malmsten, Eva Henning, Hasse Ekman,
Bergman’s first major work, Prison makes a strong case for the proclamation that opens it: “Human life is an inferno.” Gunnar Fischer’s hard-edged expressionist cinematography is ideally suited to the harsh subject matter. A young author whose marriage has driven him to the brink of either murder or suicide is prompted by a film director to visualize his relationship with a prostitute. In an old attic, the “lovers” attempt to recapture their childhood. She falls asleep and, in a series of encounters that weave dream, nightmare, and “reality,” she is confronted with his sadistic cruelty. The scenes of torture (involving cigarettes) and suicide were so extreme that Swedish censors trimmed the film. The imagery of death masks, dolls, and butchered animals is brilliant preparation for Bergman’s later excursions into the world of dreams, and the film-within-a-film device looks forward to Persona.