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Archives|Bergman's Touch Tells a Love Story


Archives | 1971

Bergman's Touch Tells a Love Story


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July 15, 1971, Page 22 The New York Times Archives

Ingmar Bergman describes “The Touch” as his first love story, which just goes to prove that a director, even one of the best, may often be a most unreliable source of information about his own work. If they aren't love stories, what—in the name of God (who, in Bergman's world, is synonymous with enigmatic love)—are “Shame” and “The Passion of Anna?” What is “The Hour of the Wolf”? In each of these films, Bergman deals with aspects of love—with the cruelties of love, with the terrible ab sences of love, and with the processes by which love, in its own time, can die.

“The Touch,” Bergnnan's first film to be shot in Eng lish, is certainly not his first love story, though it comes close to being the first out right soap opera that I can remember him making.

Because “The Touch” is by Bergman, you may be sure that it's quite unlike any other soap opera you've ever seen, but it shares with that sometimes fascinating serial, form a passion for detailing the gloomy side effects of passion while communicating hardly any sense of the ex altation. Like “The Secret Storm,” it stands around talking its head off, in lan guage that is neither rich, nor strong, nor funny, nor poetic enough to do real jus tice to its emotions.

Unlike “The Secret Storm,” however, “The Touch” does have a beginning, a middle and an irrevocable end. It's the story of a rootless, neu rotic, German‐born American archeologist (Elliott Gould), on a dig in Sweden, a placid Swedish doctor (Max von Sydow), and the doctor's wife (Bibi Andersson) whom the archeologist, with the touch of love, brings to life, which may, in fact, be her destruc tion.


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At one point during their affair, the archeologist takes his mistress to the medieval church where he is working and shows her an ancient wooden madonna that has been walled up for something like 500 years. In the course of excavation, he tells her, larvae, of an insect long since extinct, have been reawak ened and now ace in process of destroying the madonna from the inside—which is more or less the capsulated story of the middle‐class wife.

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The trouble with “The Touch” is not in the situation, or in the ideas, but in the language. The English dia logue that Bergman has given his stars sounds like those early, grammatically perfect, and lifeless translations of Ibsen that Eva La Gallienne used to pump around the American stage. “Go, now, Andreas,” Gould says to von Sydow in a crucial confronta tion between the lover and the husband. You've humil iated both of us long enough with this ridiculous visit of yours!”

The banality of the lan guage has no visibly ill effect on the performances of Miss Andersson and von Sydow, who, when they are speaking English, must sound a little bit strange and self‐con scious. It is, however, fatal to Gould, who doesn't help matters by giving his lines those slightly flat readings that were so funny in “M'A S H” and “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” but, in “The Touch,” suggest that the actor is in a different dimension of drama from those of his costars.

It's an extremely complex role that Bergman has written for Gould, that of a man who is haunted by the fact that he is his family's only male survivor (his father died in a concentration camp), and who is apparently his sister's protector and lover. But little of this complexity comes through and I, for one, never believed that his archeologist could find a cuff‐link in a messy bureau drawer, much less an ancient shard on a hillside.

Von Sydow has one of those roles, which, by defi nition, is impossible to re spond to—that of the cuck olded husband — but Miss Andersson is as charming and affecting as a movie that is not dealing in charm and affection allows her to be.

Bergman may occasionally make dull movies—as I be lieve “The Touch” to be— but he cannot be stupid, and “The Touch” is full of what might be called the innu endos of his genius. The opening sequence, where Miss Andersson visits the hospital room in which her mother has just died, is as lovely an evocation of loss as Bergman has ever done. There are fragments of love scenes, be tween the wife and her hus band, and between the wife and her lover, that are so simple and personal you for get you are in detergent drama.

Although it is often oblique, the drama is without mys tery, and sometimes ridicu lously blunt, as when Miss Andersson visits Gould for their first successful assigna tion and we hear, offscreen, the sound of a buzz saw. This is what some critics mean, guess, when they say that the film is accessible.

“The Touch” opened yes terday at the Baronet Thea ter.

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A version of this archives appears in print on July 15, 1971, on Page 22 of the New York edition with the headline: Bergman's Touch Tells a Love Story. Order Reprints| Today's Paper|Subscribe

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