Saturday, 4 December 2010


It is perhaps very fitting that the first film that Ingmar Bergman made from his own script was a meta-referencial, existential study of good and evil. Shot on a minute budget for the time, Prison follows Martin, a director whose life is changed by a suggestion made by his old maths teacher during a meal – life on Earth is Hell. Martin delights in amusing his friends with the idea, but decides to use it as the basis of a film project. The film then essentially begins again, and it soon becomes clear that we are now viewing the director’s project, both on and off screen. As Martin and his friends experience existential crises, their own lives begin to mirror the filmic hell that Martin is striving so hard to recreate.

Laden with verbal and visual puns alike, Prison is an unusual early exercise in recursive filmmaking, bolstered by a decent cast and cinematography. At moments, one might even be led to believe this is some modern film experiment riffing sarcastically on forties cinema. But as interesting a concept as the film presents, it isn’t in and of itself a significant film, besides manifesting the emergence of Bergman’s style. It’s almost as if Bergman created the meta-film element as an excuse to explore the histrionic potential of photography, and the title itself may have been a reference to his experience of working for studios. Watch out for the Méliès-style short film (later seen in Persona), which confusingly sits inside the film-within-a-film.

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