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Rite, The 
Written by: on May 19th, 2006

Release Date: Sweden ,1969
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: Ingmar Bergman, Gunnar Björnstrand, Anders Ek, Erik Hell, Ingrid Thulin

DVD released: 2005
Approximate running time: 74 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Rating: 18
Sound: Dolby Digital mono
DVD Release: Tartan Video (UK)
Region Coding: Region 0 PAL
Retail Price: £19.99

“I call The Rite an exercise for camera and four actors.”Ingmar Bergman

Simultaneously with the opening credits an unsettling piano score explodes; a score as aggressive and provocative as the film itself. Rehearsed with the cast for a week and shot in only nine days, the story revolves around three close associates who make up a theatre troupe on tour: A husband and wife in a poor marriage, Mr and Mrs Winkelmann, and the wife’s lover Mr Fisher. The artists have been banned from performing a short play called The Rite and are brought before the local magistrate on charges of obscenity. Judge Abrahamson is in charge of an interrogation process that spirals out of control and ends in death.

Mrs Thea Winkelmann (Thulin) suffers from a kind of epilepsy which can lead to certain mental side-effects. She can have peculiar outbursts and ideas beyond reason and dignity, like undressing in public and make lewd movements. She has, plain and simple, been referred to as a severely neurotic woman.

Mr Hans Winkelmann (Björnstrand) doesn’t really care about his wife’s relation with Sebastian Fisher. In fact, he sees his wife and Sebastian as an interesting combination. Winkelmann has lost belief in the troupe’s purpose as artists and thinks they’re pointless, disgusting and ridiculous, that they’ve lost their relevance in the society. Life is just humiliating and degrading according to Winkelmann.

Mr Sebastian Fisher (Ek) is a bisexual schizophrenic with an unpredictable temper who can have explosive outbursts of fury. During an interrogation Fisher graphically describes an incident from his past when he stabbed a lover of his to death, repeatedly, until both of them were covered in blood.

Judge Abrahamson (Hell) completes the quartet of freaks. At the off-set he seems to be the most reasonable character in the film but during the narrative acceleration towards the final catastrophe the character of the judge is degrading to an extent that makes him indistinguishable.

Look out for the brief appearance of a fifth character: Bergman himself in a small non-credited role as a priest.

The claustrophobia of the film is multi-layered, in psychological terms but also in visuals and narrative structure. Through the ruthless and humiliating interrogation process the characters’ innermost secrets are revealed, a psychological torture that keeps them trapped and forces them to confession. As for the visuals, the entire film in shot in confined spaces: a small interrogation room, a hotel room, or a dressing room. Filmed with almost no artificial lighting at all throughout the final footage shows very little contrast, and Bergman’s camerawork brings intimacy by heavy use of facial close-ups and weird camera angles.

Perhaps not the most pleasant film to watch at breakfast, The Rite is charged with anxiety and contains very strong language and sex references, climaxing in a scene where the neurotic Thea is raped and beaten by the judge. The panties-ripping and aggressive rape is shot in tight close-up. In another scene the bizarre Hans gives Sebastian sexual advise about how to seduce the former’s wife and how to give her maximum satisfaction. He speaks of own experience: ‘Put your left hand deep inside her. Then push hard with your right on her clitoris. She’ll have several orgasms. Then you can fuck her any way you like.’

The DVD:

The Rite was shot for television and it is presented here in its original full frame aspect ratio. This is the full uncut version of The Rite as this release restores cuts original made by the BBC upon the films original release. There are a few minor instances in which the image looks a tad to soft. Overall the black and white is looks exceptional and details look razor sharp. The Swedish audio mix is easy to follow and understand. The mix sounds balanced and there are no noticeable audio defects. Removable English subtitles have been included.

Extras include trailers for various Bergman films released by Tartan, Star and Director Filmographies and 4-page booklet with Film Notes by David Parkinson.

Even if shot in only nine days with a very little budget, The Rite is a pretty good effort and interesting film which every Bergman fan would want to see. Highly recommended, not only to completists but for anyone interested in bizarre European cult movies of the 1960s.

This review originally appeared at Dark Discussion and is reprinted here with permission.

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