In “Dreamplay,” a heady smattering of philosophical and rhetorical issues is lensed with cinematic and intellectual rigor in fine-grained black-and-white. Arty drama — adapted from Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s 1902 “A Dream Play”– mixes elements from the Bible, mythology and poetry into a disjointed and mostly dreary meditation on the human condition as investigated by God’s daughter.
Although arresting faces of top Scandi thesps hold the screen, pic demands the kind of attentive patience that is rare beyond fest and educational settings.
Heavenly visitor Agnes (Ingvild Holm, who bears a deliberate resemblance to the young Bibi Andersson) descends to Earth to sound out a cross-section of mortals on the sources of their pains and sorrows.
Agnes, who has a gamin charm that becomes more careworn in the “mud anddust” of Earth, ends up married to a penniless lawyer, a killjoy with whom she lives in a stuffy basement with their infant.
In a classy nod that works on several levels, Liv Ullmann is the cashier at a cinema where a film starring an actress named Victoria is showing. Victoria is none other than Bibi Andersson, and the unidentified film is Bergman’s “Persona” (in which Ullmann and Andersson starred.)
One male repeat customer is so enamored of his personal screen goddess that he tells Agnes he knows only one woman — Victoria. He gets the chance to meet his now middle-aged idol, with interesting results.
Agnes hooks up with a moody poet who, contending that all beauty must be dragged through the mud, warns angelic Agnes that her thoughts will no longer fly if she gets too much clay on her wings.
Pic is chock-full of dialogue — much of it ponderous — yet its lensing, much of which is in dark subterranean settings, or rain and murk, is resplendent. Excellent sound design adds to the ethereal atmosphere, and meditative pace fits the moody material. Thesps, most of whom take a theatrical tack, are fine throughout.