Written by: Johan Fundin on September 8th, 2006
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: Jarl Kulle, Bibi Andersson, Stig Jarrel, Nils Poppe, Sture Lagerwall, Ragnar Arvedson
DVD release date: 28 April 2004 (Sweden)
VHS release dates: 5 June 1995 (UK), 16 June 2000 (USA)
Approximate running time: 84mins
Aspect ratio: 4:3 (Original Academy Ratio)
Rating: 15 (Sweden), PG (UK), Unrated (USA)
DVD release: SF (Sweden)
VHS releases: Tartan Video (UK), Homevision (USA)
Region coding DVD: R2 PAL (Sweden)
Retail Price VHS: $28.45 (USA)
“The dominant impression, as in so many early Bergman films, is of a deep pessimism” – Time Out London
Bergman’s misogynistic horror comedy.
Don Juan (played by Jarl Kulle), the greatest lover in history, is after 300 years on leave from Hell. Satan (Stig Jarrel) gives him the task to return to the surface of Earth to seduce a young girl, Britt-Marie (Bibi Andersson), who has kept her virginity far too long. Don Juan’s manservant Pablo (Sture Lagerwall) accompanies the voyage to our own time, in modern disguise, like his depraved master. Nils Poppe as the Vicar and Ragnar Arvedson as a guardian demon give solid performances as well. The tension is generated by the mind games of Satan, Don Juan, and the female target and victim – Britt-Marie.
The Devil’s Eye is one of Bergman’s most abstract pictures, looking more like a stage play than a film. In fact, the narrator (Gunnar Bjornstrand) is dividing the picture in theatrical “acts”, as he is directly addressing the audience, the viewer. Every frame is like taken from a dream or illusion. The vulgar dialogue – reflecting what is supposed to be the comedy aspect – is structured around the view that young women are just sexual objects that are waiting to loose their virginity. In all its explicitness, the attraction of female breasts and more intimate body parts are referred to in detail. Bibi Andersson is outstanding as the virgin who is giving in to the rapist from Hell. The high tension between Andersson and Kulle is in fact the most memorable moment of the film as it plays out in her bedroom before he rapes her. “The scar you are about to give me will only hurt yourself and me”, is her concluding line. Throughout the film, Bergman creates a series of sharp twists between black humour and horrifying despair.
A spooky, hostile black cat is suddenly hissing and showing its sharp teeth at people (its jaws look like a vampire’s), reminiscent of the feeling of the scene where Ms Nicolodi’s character is confronting violent cats in the house in Dario Argento’s Inferno (1980) twenty years later. Intriguingly, the narrator in The Devil’s Eye is referring to Earth as “our own Inferno”, i.e. it is a Hell we are living in. Moreover, the whole set of the Devil’s Hell with its huge flames of fire in the background is echoed by the microcosm of Varelli and his three “Mothers”.
Released in the same year as the Oscar winner The Virgin Spring, in 1960, The Devil’s Eye has possibly been overshadowed by the international success of the former and been regarded one of Bergman’s lesser works, something which is reflected in the availability of the film. However, true fans will always try to seek out this title. The only DVD release in the world (when this is written) is the Swedish disc from SF that features Scandinavian language subtitle options but no English language option. But a VHS release of The Devil’s Eye with English subtitles is available both in Britain and in America.