Intelligence about an extraordinarily underrated film starring one great Swedish lady came to me from another, Sophie Sarin, who, I hope she won't mind my saying, is something of a cross between Ingrid Bergman and Katherine Hepburn. At any rate I can imagine her taking the place of La Bergman's outrageously attired character on her balcony, sipping Djenne Djenno cocktails and occasionally stroking her pet leopard (they keep saying 'panther' in the movie) as she watches the snare closing around her intended victims. Sophie is, of course, the biggest help Djenne has ever had in terms of protecting its valuable legacy (see her latest blog entry), the opposite of Bergman's dark angel of destruction winging down on the people of fictional middle-European Guellen.
The film in question is The Visit, released in 1964 and directed by Bernhard Wicki. A continental friend was very surprised I didn't know the original play on which it's based, Der Besuch der Alten Dame (The Visit of the Old Woman) by Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt - both title and playwright only names to me, since I'd heard of von Einem's opera (but again, neither heard nor seen it). It was a game role for Ingrid Bergman to assume, since she was not quite 50 at the time - she would have been 100 at the end of the month, so retrospectives are in order - and probably not ready for the label 'old'. Though in fact Wicki allows for Bergman's undimmed glamour in not exactly following Dürrenmatt's description of a 63-year old redhead who's 'a society lady with a rare grace, in spite of all the grotesquerie' and who turns out to be many parts metal following a plane crash in Afghanistan.
Wicked, though, she seems at first, until we get a greater tilting towards sympathy in the reasoning of this tycoon's widow for offering a failing town a million dollars in exchange for the death of the man who ruined her life. We soon learn that the natural corollary of the poster's subtitle 'Hell hath no fury...' is much more than just a woman scorned.
I corrected my ignorance of the play by buying a copy of the translation by Patrick Bowles after having seen the film, in which both Bergman and that ever-surprisingly good actor Anthony Quinn as the 'victim' of her hunt excel. The play does indeed read more as comedy than tragedy - ripe for the Richard Jones or Rupert Goold treatment - but I think I like the extra human dimensions Clara (or Carla, as she's called in the film) Zachanassian takes on in Ben Barzman's screenplay. Without the play's 'conspicuous consumption of husbands' and its false witnesses whom she's tracked down, had blinded and castrated and drawn into her circle of lackeys as Koby and Loby, she seems less absurd, and you have to keep pinching yourself to remember what a terrible vengefulness she intends to extract. The endings of film and play are outwardly different and yet - I can't say more without needing a spoiler notice - the film does not, I think, betray the essence of the situation.
So why was it not a hit? Too harsh, too unsoftened even in its ending to succeed with the public? Did they hate the idea of lovely Ingrid as, in the words of the play's Schoolmaster, not so much a Fury as a Fate, a Clotho 'spinning destiny's webs herself'? At any rate the characterisation, which can switch from deadly hate in the face to charming smiles in a second, is a long way from the usual image of Ingrid Bergman, who does indeed seem to have been the nicest person anyone ever met, albeit with a 'scandalous love life'. She knew the names of everyone on set and always arrived on time, I learn from an amusing 'Bergman vs Bergman' slot, jokily comparing actress and director, in the latest issue of the always beautifully produced Swedish Film which has a lovely photo of young, butter-wouldn't-melt Ingrid on the cover.
There's also an excellent article by Stig Björkman, whose new documentary Ingrid Bergman - In Her Own Words was shown at Cannes this year but has, as far as I know, yet to reach these shores. Disappointingly he doesn't choose The Visit on his shortlist of Bergman's best films, which features three I have to see, The Count of the Old Town (1935), Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1941) and a Rossellini which has somehow escaped me, Europa '51, alongside two firm favourites, Bergman's Autumn Sonata and Hitchcock's Notorious, which has just been made into an opera in which Nina Stemme is to star in Gothenburg.
Furious women and a destructive outsider, if I might make a transition which has a strange hold on my imagination, also figure in an absolute and ever-timely classic of the theatre, Euripides' Bakkhai. Ben Whishaw is a predictably spellbinding Dionysos in James Macdonald ingeniously tradition-conscious production at the Almeida, and the Bacchic choruses are both elaborately set to a cappella music by Orlando Gough as well as stunningly well executed by a group of ten singing actresses (though there are some unmusical theatregoers who just don't get it). Enough; I've written my paean already over on The Arts Desk.
This is just to acknowledge the arrival of Anne Carson's often faithful translation - so good it's made me get my old Greek text off the shelf - as published by Oberon Classics. It's the best homage to Greek tragedy, I reckon, since Tony Harrison's magnificent poetic equivalent for Peter Hall's Oresteia. Hall's Bacchae, by the way, was very good, but the Almeida's Bakkhai is superlative. Can't wait for the whole-day reading of The Iliad next Friday, and Goold's Medea with his wife Kate Fleetwood, an extraordinary Lady in his Macbeth, should be quite something too.
One more fury: myself. I realised in a shrinksession that my anger in the public sphere is spilling over into the private, not the other way around, at least consciously. Every day this government brings in new bills, tries to reverse old ones, in a flaming trail of destruction and dismantling. That includes seemingly trivial things like relaxing aspects of the foxhunting ban and bringing back bee-killing neonicotinoids which we, along with much of the rest of Europe, had already banned; but it also slips them in between major horrors like the so-far-thwarted attempt to make the UK withdraw from the European Bill of Human Rights and the atrocious stand on the endlessly suffering refugees trying to get in to Britain from Calais, where the French, no better, have been treating them worse than animals. Bravo, David Cameron, for the accolade from Forza Italia; you must be very proud.
This country must be so soul-bankrupt if we can't put ourselves in the position of people who've lost everything but now suffer what one of them said on the radio recently was worse than anything he'd ever experienced (that would, admittedly, have to be someone who hadn't been tortured). And you wonder why Jeremy Corbyn is beginning to seem like the only human alternative* (heaven spare us Yvette Cooper et al). Worthy folk like Polly Toynbee and Alan Johnson are constantly telling us that choosing Corbyn as new leader makes Labour unelectable, but in five years' time, if this extreme right-wing behaviour goes on, who knows? What's to lose, anyway? And here's someone who hasn't just come out of the blue as a charismatic contender, rather a politician who always was charismatic but genuinely didn't seek the limelight, was/is palpably sincere and honest - and no, Guardian scaremongers, not extreme. So yes, Mr. Corbyn, I'll take a chance and yes, goddaughter Rosie, I'll join you on the next demo. Rant over - for now.
*10/8 - subject to thorough examination of his stance towards Russia. I can accept that he finds things to criticise about America's and NATO's response to Ukraine, but the warning sign is equating their behaviour to Russia's, and if he gives the simple answer 'yes' to 'did you and do you still support Putin's annexation of Crimea?' then sorry, bye bye. But let's be careful always to get the words from the man himself.
**18/8 - regular appearances on Russia Today, that organ of misinformation and propaganda, are enough to turn me off. The constant allying with dictators and terrorists is enough to put me off. So I retreat with my tail between my legs and try and decide which of the others is the best of three not very goods. Not that my ballot paper has arrived yet.