1998 FOX HOME VIDEO VHS
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This 1935 Swedish drama by Gustaf Edgren more or less takes place over the course of a year, marked on either end by the springtime celebration of Walpurgis Night. Appropriately, the story is concerned in various literal and lyrical ways with birth and death: a country's concern with a declining birthrate, the waning of a childless marriage, an illegal abortion, the joys of babyhood, and the commencement of a desperate but illicit love affair. The pre-Hollywood Ingrid Bergman, gorgeous in her lonely desire, plays an assistant to a married doctor (Lars Hanson) whose wife will not agree to have a child. While his estranged spouse undergoes a backroom abortion, the doctor acts on an unspoken attraction between himself and Bergman's character. Things take a truly dark turn when a blackmailer who threatens to publicize this triangle is shot to death; meanwhile, Bergman's father (Victor Sjostrom), a newspaper editor, diverts evidence implicating her in a brewing scandal. For all its sudsy complications, the story has a moving, poetic shape to it, and the resonance between multiple references to childbearing gives the film a sense of elemental urgency. Still, there is room for a little lightness: Sjostrom (a legendary director himself) is quite funny in portraying incredulity over a younger generation's endless reasons for delaying family life. --Tom Keogh
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