Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Woman's Face (1938)



Ever since I first read a biography on Ingrid Bergman a few years ago I always wanted to see her Swedish films especially her one film A Woman’s Face. Last year Kino released three of Bergman’s best known Swedish films in a pack which included A Woman’s Face. From reading the description I was intrigued and wanted to see the film very much. Whatever expectations I had for the film were met and went so much higher than what I was expecting.
            Bergman plays a young woman named Anna Holm. When Anna was a girl her face was burned and scared from a fire. The fire and the large scar on the left side of her face that has left her bitter with much self-pity. She feels she cannot earn an honest living because her scar would scare people so she joined up with a group of blackmailers. Their latest victim is the wife of a doctor named Vera Wegert who has been going to an inn with another man. One of the blackmailers works at the inn which is where they find their victims. They have letters from the wife to her lover and they threaten to give them to her husband if she does not pay them.
            Anna is the one who has to go to Vera’s house to collect the money. Vera does not have the money so she gives Anna some of her jewelry. Vera has to step out for a few minutes leaving Anna alone in her house. Anna sees an open door and looks in. Vera’s husband is a doctor who during World War I helped repair the faces of men who were left scared or disfigured. Anna hers the door open and it is the doctor. She turns out the light and hides only when she moves she falls and the doctor hears her. He thinks she is a robber especially because she has Vera’s jewels in her bag. Vera gets back in time and convinces her husband not to call the police. Wegert sees that Anna’s face is disfigured so he tells her he can help her so she can have a second chance and a better life. Anna is reluctant she is afraid the surgery will not go well. She lets Vera know that if the surgery does not go well she tell her husband everything.
            For two months Anna is laid up in a hospital between her broken ankle and the surgery on her face. Finally the day comes when the bandages come off. Vera is more anxious than Anna is. Dr. Wegert reveals her new face and Anna is overcome.
            Before Anna disappeared from the group they were making a deal to help a man named Torsten blackmail and kill his nephew leaving him to inherit the money from his industrialist grandfather. They wished Anna could have been the new governess to the boy but her face made that impossible. When she was better Anna remembered the new assignment and got the job as the governess. At first Torsten did not recognize her but he remembered the way she covered face when he last saw and remembered her when he unconsciously hid her face the same way on the train.
            Anna at first goes to the house to carry out the job as planned but she comes to love the family and the boy Lars-Erik. The first night she is there he almost yells at him that he is lucky to have so many people at his beckon call and to have all the toys he does. She never had toys or love when she was younger. Lars-Erik has an uncle named Harald. Harald and Anna like each other very much and he wants to marry her. As Anna is living a nice new life Torsten comes to the house. He tells her he knows who she is and if she does not carry out what needs to be done he will tell his family. She refuses she love Lars-Erik as if he were her own.
            One night while sleigh riding for the grandfather’s birthday, Torsten takes Lars-Erik in his sleigh planning to kill him. Anna and Harald are in a sleigh of their own and she makes him follow Torsten’s. They get to the boy just in time but Anna lets it be known to Harald that she was the one who was sent to kill him but she could not after she came to love the family. Harald is hurt and when he comes to he wants to leave the family and is hurt by what Anna has done. All he wants her to say is that whatever she has done in her past life is not true but she cannot lie to herself or to him. She wants to leave because she knows that if she stays there will always be a quiet moment where he thinks about what she has done and she could not live with that.
            Anna goes back to Dr. Wegert. He has since divorced Vera and now wants to travel the world with an ambulance corps. He offers her a job in China to work for his brother and his wife as a governess for their children. He tells her that both of them are starting over with a new life they are going places where no one knows who they really are and what they have done. Anna agrees and begins a new life.
            A Woman’s Face is probably the most perfect film I have ever seen from the direction, cinematography, lighting, casting, and story it is perfection. Ingrid Bergman is amazing I have never thought her anything less than that when I first watched her in Notorious. What is incredible is that she was twenty-three years old when she made this film and even then you can see how utterly dedicated she was to acting and to making her character come to life. Her character was so bitter and conflicted and you can see that you can believe Anna Holm was a real woman who is angry at the world. Before you even see Bergman for the first time in the film you hear her and she does not sound like a woman you would want to meet or to have as the main character of a film. You feel pity for the character and it is all due to Bergman’s handling of the character. Her best scene was after Vera came by to make the deal about the money; Anna is sitting in a room by herself. She did not see Vera but the men say she is very pretty. Upset with her appearance she smashes a mirror. My explanation does not do it justice but out of all the films I have seen with Bergman as the star this was one of her absolute best, I cannot properly explain the rage and anguish on her face.
            In terms of direction I have to say this is one of my favorite directed films. Gustaf Molander was the director and I was so enthralled with his direction. The best scene is when Anna first sees her repaired face. Just the angles that he films Wegert and Anna are great. The whole time we do not see Anna’s healed side of her face it is either covered by the doctor, a light, or a mirror. I thought that was genius because not only is Anna on an edge about her face but so are we as the audience. Molander’s direction and cinematography was in a very European artistic manner that in America was not being done and I liked this a great deal because it added more to the film.
            There was a scene between the grandfather and his maid that was excellently written and acted. It was cute and funny. It was a light bantering between old friends and when you watch the scene it is as if the two actors were the characters and had been old friends for many years the acting between them in the scene was so natural.
            I know there was a Hollywood remake of the film made in the 1940s with Joan Crawford. I have never seen the Hollywood remake and never plan to because there is absolutely no way Crawford can hold a candle to Bergman in the main role. The ending to the remake I have read is a very Hollywood ending where everyone is left happy. I really liked the ending to the Swedish version to me it offers hope for Anna and it is not a typical classic film ending.
            The Swedish version of A Woman’s Face is an incredible film from beginning to end. The story can either make you feel bad for Anna and her unfortunate life or you could not feel bad because of the things she has done to others and to herself. This could have been a ridiculously overdramatic film and it was not in any way. It is a film filled with so much... I do not know what it is just full of so many things that are great. A Woman’s Face is a film I will recommend to anyone from the classic film lover to Ingrid Bergman fans to film/screenwriting majors looking for inspiration.