July 14th, 2013: Hour of the Wolf (1968)

The Hour of the Wolf

What It’s About: A director has made a film about the disappearance of painter Johan Borg (Max von Sydow), which he has reconstructed from the painter’s diary and interviews with his wife Alma (Liv Ullman). Johan and his wife were living on a deserted island where Johan was tormented by visions of the “ghosts” of the island and, presumably, his life. He did not sleep nights but instead stayed up through the “Hour of the Wolf”, that hour just before dawn when the majority of people are born, die, and when hopelessness and the supernatural is at its strongest. Alma is pregnant, and clearly concerned about Johan’s condition.  When Johan shows her his sketchbook, in which has sketches of the apparitions he’s seen, Alma is drawn into Johan’s visions. The next day Alma meets a well dressed old woman (Naima Wifstrand) who tells Alma that Johan must stop his sketches of the apparitions-and that she should read his diary.

In the diary, Alma reads of the people Johan meets while painting out on the island-a Baron who has a castle on the island and invites Johan and Alma to come up; an old lover, Veronica Volger (Ingrid Thulin); and a therapist (Ulf Johansson) who follows Johan and bothers him until Johan punches him in the face. The couple accepts the invite even though they both dread it, and we’re treated to a nightmarish dinner where the hosts torment the guests with the hosts’ squabbles and character flaws while simultaneously sizing up the guests themselves and twisting the knife in old wounds. The couple continue to stay up for long nights while discussing their relationship, Johan’s relationship with Volger, Alma’s unwillingness to let the ghosts have Johan, and some of Johan’s other encounters on the island. Eventually the therapist arrives to inform Johan that Volger is at the castle, and he leaves a gun that Johan shoots Alma with before going to the castle, where even stranger encounters await him…

Why Watch it Today?:  Acclaimed Swedish director Ingmar Bergman was born today in 1918.  The Hour of the Wolf may not be his most famous or acclaimed film, but it is a surreal and unsettling one, a long nightmare committed to celluloid.

Other Choices:  The Seventh Seal; Wild Strawberries

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