Written by: Johan Fundin on September 6th, 2009
Approx. Running Time: 84 minutes.
Theatrical Release Dates: 31 Mar. 1958 (Sweden), 7 Nov. 1959 (New York City, New York, USA), 8 Nov. 1959 (USA, general release).
Director: Ingmar Bergman.
Production: Svenska AB Nordisk Tonefilm.
Writing: Ulla Isaksson (screenplay; novels: ‘Det vänliga, värdiga’, ‘Det orubbliga’), Ingmar Bergman (uncredited).
Cinematography: Max Wilén.
Cast: Eva Dahlbeck, Ingrid Thulin, Bibi Andersson, Barbro Hiort af Ornäs, Erland Josephson, Max von Sydow, Gunnar Sjöberg, Anne-Marie Gyllenspetz.
DVD Release Date: September 7th, 2007.
Studio: Klubb Super 8.
Aspect Ratio (Video Format): 4:3 (1.37:1).
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono.
Certification: X (UK. Cut version.), 15 (Sweden), 16 (Argentina).
Region Coding: PAL/R0. (All regions).
Retail Price: SEK 129 (Swedish Crowns).
For the first time available on DVD. And uncut.
The multiple award winner at Cannes 1958.
Brink of Life came as a shock to cinema audiences at its original release in 1958. The newspapers reported people fainting, the record being set in Bergen in Norway, where eight people passed out during the same screening. In the UK, the film was released as an X-rated, cut version.
“The actresses remain the film’s biggest asset. Just as in other pressured situations, these women proved their professionalism, inventiveness, and unshakable loyalty.” – Ingmar Bergman
A nerve-piercing drama about three women exposed to the horrors of future and presence, played out through 84 minutes in one room, in a maternity ward, drenched in ultra-pessimism peppered with complicated stories of miscarriage and illegal abortion. And Bergman didn’t need colour footage to deliver the traumas of female bleeding. This is the chamber-play of chamber-plays. A film devoid of music, the tones that invade the viewer are those of the tortured human psyche itself.
One of Bergman’s classic themes – “The Woman” – has probably never been played out in a more intimate and exposed fashion. This is Persona extended from two females to three.
Among an all magnificent cast – four actresses sharing the Best Actress award at Cannes – it’s a challenge to pick favourites, but Ingrid Thulin is arguably best performer, followed by Eva Dahlbeck as a close second. Bibi Andersson is so naturally great that one might miss her greatness, simply because one expects her to be on top in every role she does, but she really is on top here.
Minor male roles are delivered by Bergman veterans Max von Sydow and Erland Josephson, but they’re just in the periphery of the story. Brink of Life is all about women; in terrible situations.
Bergman’s camera has never been more documentary-style or straight-in-the-face as it comes across in this dreadful maternity ward depiction. Brink of Life is as much about Death as about Life (the ultra-thin borderline between living and dead things defining another typical Bergman theme), and there is little for the viewer to feel good about after walking out of this multiple-level trauma. But then, watching a Bergman film has never been the natural way for viewers who need being cheered up. Instead, Brink of Live might work as a therapy study for suicide candidates not yet realizing that there might be a glimmer of hope somewhere far away. Of course, Bergman never delivers that potential hope. And we never expected him to do so.
I’m not sure if “enjoy” is the right word here in terms of feel-good entertainment, but I strongly recommend Brink of Life for fans of intense, claustrophobic dramas in confined spaces in the vein similar to the much later Misery (1990) or Demon Seed (1977).