Bart Testa is a senior lecturer at Innis College and the Cinema Studies Institute at the University of Toronto.
Ingrid Thulin, Gunnel Lindblom, Jörgen Lindström, Håkan Jahnberg,
Sisters Anna (Gunnel Lindblom) and Ester (Ingrid Thulin) are traveling with Anna’s son when they are forced by Ester’s poor health to hole up in a hotel in a strange country seemingly on the verge of war. Anna shuns the attentions of her desperately ill sister, while Ester is left to cope with the pain of her desire and her illness; it seems they are one. Meanwhile the boy explores the mysteries of the old hotel, playing out the fears inspired by the passions around him. The third film of Bergman’s “God trilogy” (with Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light) was one of his most controversial. If it remains risky and experimental, it is not for its intimations of incest but for the postapocalyptic landscape of emotions it traverses: a truly desolate foreign land, where language is reduced to ciphers, and sex to a brittle ritual of humiliation; where God is no longer even an absence.