Through the Membranes of the Serpent's Egg You Can See the Reptile
I remember seing this film in the cinema when it premiered in Sweden
in 1978 or 1977, and i pretty much felt what most other
viewers did - that it was a failure even though the oppressive dark
atmosphere was somewhat impressive.
This didn't look or feel as an Ingmar Bergman movie, and therefore it
must be considered a flop.
When re-watching this film after some 43 years (yeah, yeah, i'm an old
geezer i know) i found it unfair to diss it because it
wasn't like his familiar one's made in Sweden. Bergman had fled Sweden
due to the tax authority affair and now resided in West
Germany where he got the opportunity, with the help of film mogul producer
Dino De Laurentiis, to make whatever he liked
and with a huge budget compared to anything he had ever made earlier.
Who can blame him for doing it.
The film takes place in Berlin,
November 1923 and Bergman tell us (or tries to) a story about the Birth
of Evil. It's a bit
heavy-handed that the seeds of the Nazi terror coming were sowed already
in the early 1920's due to the painful
defeat in WW1 and the depression making people without food or money
and even more humiliated.
It's a common theory but Bergman tells it to us in a bit to simple way.
Yes, We Get it Ingmar !
That the children of the degraded people seen in the sleeve picture
above will carry their anger, multiplied, into the
1930's and to follow the leader that will promise them revenge and glory
(hmm, and who could that be ?).
A whole block of houses, streets and tram rails were
built in the studio and it looks just fabulous, this IS Berlin in
a grey November 1923 with sleet and rain. It must have cost a fortune
and everything is expertly shot by the master
Cinematographer Sven Nykvist. A great Neo-Noir
expressionistic portrait of Fear and Paranoia. Impressive.
But still, it's a failed Great Film, even though the merits described
above and there are nothing wrong with the actors
either. David Carradine received a lot of criticism once, but he's OK
in his economic acting style.
The film has some great moments as the violent scene with the jewish
cabaret manager, it was truly horrifying
and the footage of the "fascist" experiments were very unpleasant
too. The dark atmosphere was great.
Still, it doesn't work as a whole, and maybe the culprit was the too
simplistic script, and the scene at the end with Heinz
Bennent's mad doctor Vergerus was much too talky, and with his death
scene seemingly ripped off "Peeping Tom".
Like a Mad Doctor escaped from a 1950's US sci-fi B movie. Bergman usually
is more subtle than this.
Hey, i got it! This film
would've worked perfectly fine as a Silent movie with
only some text frames describing the
ongoings, and it would've been like watching a great Gustav Pabst or
Fritz Lang movie from the 1920's.
The Story: The Rise of
Fascism in Germany
In November 1923 Germany has tumbled down in a deep
depression with a galloping inflation and jewish american Abel
Rosenberg (David Carradine) comes home and finds his brother dead after
having committed suicide. Abel, his brother
Max and Manuela (Liv Ullman) are ex-circus trapeze performers.
Manuela performs (sings badly, croaks in broken german) at a Cabaret
and also works at a brothel, and she and Abel
Shares her apartment and become lovers when he sort of takes his brothers
But an evil man, Hans Vergerus (Heinz Bennent), a bad
memory from Abel's childhood, is keeping an eye on them and
offers Manuela and Abel their own apartment to live in at The St. Anna
Klinik. They move in and soon starts to feel
bad and with a constant noise buzzing stressing them. What is going
Abel also is feeling low after witnessing Jewish people being harassed
on the street by thugs and without the Police
doing anything about it. He's very conscious about his jewishness and
he's deeply hurt by what he has seen.
The film is presented in 1.66:1 ratio and with LPCM mono english audio
with english subtitles (but when german is
spoken a few times there are no subs), region B. Extras:
An audio commentary by actor David Carradine
Bergman's Egg: A New appreciation of the Serpent's Egg and Bergman's
career by critic and author Barry Forshaw
(25 minutes, 2018), Away from Home: Archives featurette interviews with
Liv Ullman and David Carradine (16 minutes,
2004), German Expressionism: Archival interview with author Marc Gervais
(5 minutes, 2004), Theatrical trailer, Gallery
and a Booklet with text
Liv Ullman in her interview is critical of the film
and she says that Bergman, for once equipped with a big budget,
concentrated more on how the cobble-stones of the Studio street looked
than on the actors. That he lost his way
during the filming