Hour Of The Wolf (1968 Sweden)

377e5ed6652c3d56fb7e2c38d07cbc56I’ll start by saying I’m not that familiar with the work of director Ingmar Bergman. I found this film, at times, frustrating to sit through. But it still had some mesmeric pull over me. It wasn’t the characters or plot, but the striking images, gloomy Gothic setting, eerie atmosphere and its fine details. Pretty depressing is one way to put it though.

An artist in crisis and his idling wife retreat to a remote island – empty save for a peculiar ensemble of grotesque characters inhabiting a medieval castle on the other side of the island. These people claim to be big admirers of the painter’s work and appear to be inextricably connected with him in mysterious ways. The painter spends his nights sleepless, waiting for daylight “as though he’s afraid of the dark”, relating painful past memories to his wife during the “hour of the wolf” – that hour of legend between midnight and dawn where the dead are said to pass on and the newborns come into this world.

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The script is fairly strong with a lot depth and conviction, but also it has it a lot of dead silence, which generally added to the anxious mood I felt it created. Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann weren’t bad in creating a sense of delusion and morbidness from their characters. But honestly I just didn’t care for them. The strange memories and nightmare that were set up were extremely chilling, especially the one involving a child. Its strong point would have to be that it is tremendously atmospheric.

The conspicuous island and it’s howling wind carries plenty of impact, knocking the viewer around emotionally. The film being shot in black and white contributed a lot too. The score was a mixture, at some stages it’s a small whimper, but then it would turn into an excruciating whirlwind. There is some nice cut away and fade out editing on show as well. Just make sure you’re in the right frame of mind, as it’s put together rather strangely and it might be very agitating to your senses.

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Hour suffers as much as it benefits from characters enjoying the sound of their own voices. They exchange monologues. When they have something to say, when their author is inspired, they deliver moments of gold. When they don’t you can almost feel Bergman beating you around the head with his obsessions. Some of the monologues just don’t have a whole lot to them. The characters tend to harp on tediously without much purpose.

It’s no wonder that Hour of the Wolf comes into its own when Bergman allows the film to become the sensory, as opposed to literary, experience it wants to be. Brilliant set pieces like the puppet-show, set to Mozart’s The Magic Flute, staged by the Birdman character, Max Von Sydow uncovering Ingrid Thulin’s naked body, much to the amusement of the castle residents. Then there is his final confrontation with them in the woods; all bizarre, surreal, nightmarish moments that really make this film something special.

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