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Saturday, September 12, 2015

DAS SCHLANGENEI / THE SERPENT’S EGG (1977)

Ingmar Berman’s paranoid period political thriller, a one-off genre pic for him, and much derided on release, now looks uncommonly interesting. Technically, it’s something of a stunner, with a big budget courtesy of producer Dino De Laurentiis to recreate ‘20s Berlin at its panic-stricken mega-inflationary nadir. The film sets up midway into the storyline, so we play catch-up from the start as David Carradine’s stranded circus performer finds himself under suspicion for a series of ghoulish deaths, including his brother’s apparent suicide. Together with Liv Ullmann, not long divorced from the brother, they’d done a trapeze act, but she’s now scratching out a living in a nauseating cabaret. As these two warily approach each other, past associates seem to be leading them toward some dark, explanatory secrets, but they may be engulfed by the city’s crumbling atmosphere or by Gert Fröbe’s police inspector before finding anything out. Bergman, out of Sweden on some personal tax debacle, didn’t like working away from his home base, but his German tech crew did spectacular work here, as did regular lenser Sven Nykvist. Some of the German actors overdo things (they all smoke ‘in character’), but Ullmann does well in a green fright wig while Carradine lets his physical presence (much like Keanu Reeves here) get a tricky mix of endurance & passive masochism across. The film smells of post-production fiddling here & there (who added the narration?), and can feel like a series of striking set pieces without resolution, but it really shouldn’t be missed. (09/11/15)

DOUBLE-BILL: The film is closer to ‘70s political thrillers like THE PARALLAX VIEW/’74 (Alan Pakula/Warren Beatty) than to other Bergman pics.

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