The Rite (Ingmar Bergman, 1969, Sweden)

                Ingmar Bergman made The Rite for Swedish TV in 1969, and it bears the lineage of a number of other films in his oeuvre, including The Magician, Persona, and Hour of the Wolf. While clearly limited in terms of budget, The Rite nevertheless makes the most of its limited scope, conveying a great deal of psychological and emotional complexity within its confined canvass. The Rite must be one of Bergman’s most cryptic works, and even at a brief 75 minutes, it leaves a lot of questions. While the innate theatricality of the film and the unusual performances make the film a challenge, it is still worth visiting.

               The film stars longtime Bergman players Gunnar Bjornstrand, Anders Ek, and Ingrid Thulin, as a troupe of avant-garde actors who are under scrutiny from a Judge Dr. Abrahamson, played by Erik Hell. Divided into chapters, the film chronicles the interrogation of the actors by Dr. Abrahamson. Other scenes show the inner turmoil and drama between the actors, including their illicit love affairs. The film culminates in the titular ritual, a striking scene involving pagan masks in which the Judge is effectively rendered impotent and killed by the troupe of actors.

               The potent eroticism, particularly with regard to Ingrid Thulin’s character, is very evident in the film. It is hard to imagine that the film was shown on Swedish TV, as such a film would not be allowed to appear on American TV for decades after its premiere. In the US, the film was released theatrically as The Ritual. Bergman is clearly making a commentary on the nature of the artist in the face of governments, the claustrophobic interrogations clearly being influenced by the work of Franz Kafka. The Rite is gray, bleak, intense, and somewhat angry film which showcases some of Bergman’s concerns.



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