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Strange and mesmerising Bergman mystery, ostensibly the story of a disturbed artist (von Sydow) wrestling with and trying to escape from the memory of a five-year affair after having escaped to a bleak island with his lover (Ullmann). Of course, the mystery is never resolved, and in the final third the haunting dream-like narrative dominates, playing like a strange amalgam of Hamlet and The Avengers TV series. Sven Nykvist's cinematography is a marvel.
I had this on videocassette for many years but it seems almost like a different film now on blu-ray and rescued from my decaying memory traces. I did not recall that the story is essentially told by Alma Borg (Liv Ullmann), filling in the gaps of the narrative from the details revealed in her husbandï¿ 1/2(TM)s diary (Johan Borg played by Max von Sydow). He is an artist, a tortured artist who may be coming apart at the seams. They are holidaying on an island in the Swedish archipelago. During his time out painting, Johan begins to meet and interact with other residents on the island, who live in a large castle (and perhaps they represent his patrons and critics). He develops an antagonistic relationship with them and in recounting them to Alma, he makes them sound exactly like demons. In truth, one of them is the spitting image of Bela Lugosi and all of them seem perverse or perverted. Or perhaps this is all in Johanï¿ 1/2(TM)s head ï¿ 1/2" we can never really be sure whether they are just figments of his imagination or not (except that Alma does seem to be present when they are around on some occasions). Johan becomes increasingly haunted and stops sleeping at night (including during the Hour of the Wolf when it is said that more people die than at any other time). In one of their late night sessions, Johan tells Alma of a recent experience (shot in flashback in stark high contrast bleached out b&w) where he was followed by a young boy who wouldnï¿ 1/2(TM)t leave him alone until Johan felt so antagonised that he killed the boy; of course, it is hard not to think of the boy as Johanï¿ 1/2(TM)s younger self and the dialogue often suggests splintering or loss of identity. Eventually Johan has a violent break with reality, shoots his gun at Alma, and flees. We are left only with Almaï¿ 1/2(TM)s version of events and the diary. One reviewer even suggested that this is all part of Almaï¿ 1/2(TM)s imagination! In any case, Bergman manages to wed his interest in the artistï¿ 1/2(TM)s place in society (here an object of possibly unwanted attention and judgment) with some of the imagery of the gothic horror film (ravens make an appearance). Perhaps this doesnï¿ 1/2(TM)t rank with the all-time classics from the Swedish master (the characters remain too distant from us) but it isnï¿ 1/2(TM)t like anything else youï¿ 1/2(TM)ve seen.
If it were edited better, "Hour of the Wolf" would be a masterpiece. That being said, it is tonally flawless and captivating. The emotional high points of the film make up for its structural inconsistency.
one of the typical bleak psychological dramas.
Dark, surreal, and not for everybody. What starts out with an artist's wife (Liv Ullman) talking to the camera about the disappearance of her husband (Max von Sydow), transitions to flashbacks about their life on an island, and his increasing angst and depression. The scenes that director Ingmar Bergman gives us from the middle of the movie on, after the intertitle 'Vargtimmen', are bizarre and nightmarish. The fact that they're subject to interpretation makes it interesting, but be forewarned, there is a brooding heaviness to the film, and in crawling through the artist's mind, the images are sometimes disturbing.
Whether the scenes are nightmares, hallucinations, or insanity, it's clear that the man has many demons - beatings from childhood, forbidden desires, and constantly being misunderstood or compartmentalized as an artist. With the exception of his wife, who is a stabilizing force, the others on the island seem like demons incarnate. The scenes where he's in the mansion, at a dinner party and later trying to meet an old lover (Ingrid Thulin), feel claustrophobic and warped. We feel his social awkwardness, the outrage of critics commenting on his work, and the violation of women trying to possess a piece of him via sex or hanging a painting of his on the wall. The reduction of it all, and all while smirking or laughing at him. We feel for him as he's been silent but then exclaims "I call myself an artist for lack of a better name. In my creative work there is nothing implicit except compulsion. Through no fault of mine, I've been pointed out as something quite extraordinary, a calf with five legs, a monster. I have never fought to attain that position and I shall not fight to keep it."
My interpretation, for whatever it's worth, is that husband and wife are all alone on the island, and that all of the other characters in the movie are memories or demons haunting his troubled mind. (and in the case of the woman who magically knows where his diary is kept, the intuition in his wife's mind). Both times when asked to the mansion he doesn't even reply, which could be because his perspective is to feel voiceless and powerless in society, or it could be because it's an inner dialogue. Perhaps this view is a little extreme and 'reality' is shown in the first half (before the intertitle), through the artist's perspective (especially at the party), but I have to believe the visions of the second half are all in his mind, and often symbolic. For example, we're not actually seeing the murder of a child in that oh-so-disturbing scene, we're seeing him attempt to stifle his latent homosexual desires.
The wife seems to think they're close, and yet, he has a secret world revealed in his diary, and is a man ultimately tortured and alone. His insomnia has him up in the wee hours of the night, during the "hour of the wolf", which legend says is "when most people die, when most children are born. Now is when nightmares come to us. And if we are awake, we're afraid." He's slipping into insanity, thus losing himself, and his wife also is in danger of losing her mind, as she wonders whether it's true that "a woman who lives a long time with a man, eventually winds up being like that man." I suppose therein lies further horror.
The film has strong performances from Max von Sydow, who really puts himself out there for the film, as well as Liv Ullman, who expresses such fear with her eyes. The legend of vargtimmen feels like an homage to the slightly different legend that director Victor Sjöström referred to in "The Phantom Carriage" (1921), which was one of Bergman's favorite films. Bergman is artistic in this film, with interesting shots, camera angles, and the use of high contrast to amplify the dreamlike feel to his scenes. It seems he's speaking some of his own truth as an artist here. The film may remind some of 1965's "Persona" in its themes of mental health and because all may not be as it seems, but weirdly enough it also reminded me of 1964's "All These Women". That film is the polar opposite in its tone (comedy/light vs horror/dark), but also expresses the difficulty of an artist amidst everything surrounding him (though that film is also external vs internal, if that makes sense). This film is far better, but also a bit of an extreme, and Bergman borders a bit on pretentiousness at times here. That may be a controversial view, but regardless, the film is just a bit too dark for me to give a higher review score, or to recommend without reservations.
Art house master Ingmar Bergman descends into the dimly-lit depths of the human psyche in The Hour of the Wolf.
The film thrusts us into a windy world of mis-heard mysteries and mis-seen memories, teasing us with a fragmented tale of a troubled painter, his broken wife and his somewhat overbearing "ghosts."
Bit by bit, Bergman delivers a deeply unsettling portrait of psychosis, infatuation and hallucination.
A diary unleashes a skewed narrative of ghastly faces, ghostly chases and doom-ridden dinner parties, interspersed with nuggets of Mr Bergman's signature poetic wisdom.
Like our most haunting nightmares, the whole thing never quite comes together - and will never quite be forgotten.
I was thoroughly frustrated while watching Hour of the Wolf. For one thing the film is about a man who is going insane, and therefore every single thing that happens in it is in question. I never know what is actually happening, or why any of it is happening. This kind of ambiguity drives me up the wall, because all I want is some clarity and actual story. The pace of Hour of the Wolf is also tedious and plodding. There are a number of times where they feel the need to show us people just standing or walking in silence. In fact, Max von Sydow (the best actor in the film) says very few lines in the entire movie which seems like a terrible waste. The saving grace of this movie are some of the creepy moments and crazy visuals that Bergman captures. While everything about watching Hour of the Wolf annoyed me, I can see there was a lot of work that went into filming it. However, because it is a nonsensical and boring slog of a film to sit through, I’ll gladly never watch this (or possibly any other Bergman films) again.
An artist plagued by nightmares and the woman who loves him succumb to manifested demons in this gothic tale of guilt and regret.
Probably the weakest Bergman film I have seen, but a fantastic and uncanny horror film about the complete destruction of an artist.
Disturbing, yet insightful look into an artist's perspective. 1001 movies to see before you die.