Review – BRINK OF LIFE (“Nära livet,” Ingmar Bergman, 1958, Sweden)

BrinkOfLifeposterAfter directing the monumental and ambitious The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, Ingmar Bergman retreated to the small maternity ward of a hospital in Stockholm to direct Brink of Life. Though the film has slipped under the radar, it marks a continuation of Bergman’s existentialist concerns and is a particularly worthy companion piece to Wild Strawberries; whereas this film was a meditation on the subject of death, Brink of Life deals with the trauma of birth.

Brink of Life is a claustrophobic hospital drama about three women of different ages who live through their pregnancies in very different ways: Cecilia (Ingrid Thulin) believes her husband is unhappy in their marriage and fears the arrival of a child will further increase the distance between them; Stina (Eva Dahlbeck) loves and is loved by her husband, and awaits the birth of her long overdue son with great anticipation; Hjordis (Bibi Andersson), an unmarried 18-year-old, has attempted an abortion and is recovering from a hemorrhage.

Although Bergman is universally famous for his contribution to the art of cinema, he remained an active theatre director all his life. Brink of Life is a work that allows the cinema viewer an insight into his work as a stage director. Here, the background is always secondary to the three lead characters and Bergman intrudes as little as possible on Ulla Isaksson screenplay, which she had adapted from her own novel. The theatrical nature of the movie allows the performances to shine. Dahlbeck, Thulin, and Andersson shared a deserved Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival of 1958.

Although Bergman too won the Best Director award at the Cannes festival, he would go on to call Brink of Life a “naive and messy mishmash.” Despite his firm judgment, Brink of Life is worth noting for many reasons. One, it is an interesting early honest and sometimes shocking depiction of a less “politically correct” version of childbirth and pregnancy (an earlier work worth mentioning is Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Ordet). Indeed,  the film’s depiction of the clinic was a shock for cinema audiences at the time in Sweden and Norway, and the film was censored in a number of other countries, such as Italy, that completely cut out the scene of Stina’s labour pains. Secondly, it anticipates the style of Bergman’s later television works. – ★★★★

NÄRA LIVET || 1958, Sweden || Drama || Directed by – Ingmar Bergman / Written by – Ulla Isaksson / Cinematography – Max Wilén / Editing by – Carl-Olov Skeppstedt / Starring – Eva Dahlbeck, Ingrid Thulin, Bibi Andersson / Running time: 84 mins.

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