The Touch

 

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For special reasons this is a 'must see' for all admirers of Ingmar Bergman.

 
Touch, The

Bibi Andersson and Elliott Gould

 

An artist is not always the best judge of his or her own work so the fact that Ingmar Bergman described this 1971 film as an embarrassing failure in no way undermines the claims now being made for it by the likes of Gerard Corvin and Geoff Andrew, the latter describing this new restoration as "utterly compelling" and "a revelation". I was not the only Bergman enthusiast to express major reservations about The Touch when it first appeared, but now at last we have here the rare bilingual version in which, supported by subtitles, those characters who are Swedish speak their own language whenever it would have been natural for them to do so. For much of the time this remains an English language picture, but nevertheless this version adds to the sense of authenticity.

 

Admirers of The Touch feel that Bergman undersold it by describing the film as a love story, but it is certainly a work built around a drama of personal relationships as Karin (Bibi Andersson), a mother twice over and a wife of fifteen years - her husband being the surgeon Andreas Vergerus played by Max von Sydow - is drawn into a sudden and ultimately passionate affair with a visiting archaeologist, David Kovac (Elliott Gould). A romantic triangle of this kind featured far more recently in 2009's Mademoiselle Chambon in which we felt for all of the characters. Bergman's screenplay make that more difficult here since he plays down any conflict that Karin might feel in deserting her children and portrays her husband as for the most part a sympathetic character. Furthermore, he even makes Karin question her own motivation when first becoming involved with David who proves to be volatile and at times abusive, behaviour that discourages any sympathy that we might feel for him but which doesn't prevent Karin's commitment to him from growing. 

 

The quality of the performances was never in question, and it may be that today's audiences are less concerned over questions of sympathy and more ready to embrace a convincing portrayal of a bond that defies reason and logic but is born of something deeper. What for me remains seriously questionable are the film's increasing ambiguities which come to dominate in the last quarter of an hour prior to an exceedingly abrupt close without an end credit. In this section, important narrative details are either jumped or left to the audience to interpret without sufficient guidance. This may please some while infuriating others, but there are additional criticisms to be made that go beyond personal taste.

 

Two sequences are stylistically inappropriate: one is in effect a speeded-up sequence of Karin trying on different adornments and the other a direct recitation to camera against a dark background involving letters exchanged when the lovers are apart (the latter, unlike a letter read aloud to us in Winer Light, that true Bergman masterpiece, seems to plunge us into an unreal and phoney world). Elsewhere, the symbolism inherent in a scene concerning a wooden Madonna being eaten away by larvae feels extremely heavy-handed. It's also the case that, even if satire is intended, the use of banal music from a radio during two domestic scenes seems merely ill-judged in this context. In all of these cases there is a conflict between the fresh tone suddenly introduced for these moments and the rest of the film. Yet, whatever conclusion you reach both on these individual points and on the overall success or failure of The Touch, Bergman is such an important artist that when a film such as this gains enthusiastic new admirers every serious film enthusiast should recognise the importance of seeing it and making up their own minds.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Elliott Gould, Bibi Andersson, Max von Sydow, Sheila Reid, Barbro Hoort af Ornäs, Ake Lindstrom, Staffan Hallerstam, Maria Nolgård.

 

Dir Ingmar Bergman, Pro Ingmar Bergman, Screenplay Ingmar Bergman, Ph Sven Nykvist, Pro Des P.A. Lundgren with Ann-Christin Lobråten, Ed Siv Kanälv-lundgren, Music Jan Johansson, Costumes Mago and Ethel Sjöholm.

 

Cinematograph/ABC Pictures-BFI.
115 mins. Sweden/USA. 1971. Rel: 23 February 2018. Cert. 15.