There is no denying the absorbing theme and the perfection in direction, acting, editing and lensing. Pic is hypnotic in its first part, as stark black-and-white imagery tells of a noted actress who has suddenly stopped dead during a performance of a Greek tragedy and has refused to talk since. She is tended by a nurse and they are finally sent off to a beach island house together under orders of a psychiatrist.
Here the roles suddenly seem reversed, for the nurse talks about herself, and just about strips herself bare. The patient listens, reacts, and it is she giving solace; there is even a hint of love.
There follows a sudden whiplash scene as the nurse abuses her out of pride. The nurse even lets her step on a piece of glass she has seen but not picked up. Here Bergman suddenly resorts to a Brechtian bit by simulating a ripping of the pic and then a burning.
Bibi Andersson’s distraught, knowing, naive, helpful and then resentful performance of the nurse is a tour-de-force, and Liv Ullmann has the right luminous, questioning and sometimes impenetrable face and projection for the part of the beauteous but mute actress. At the end their faces photographically fuse.
Bergman has come up with probably one of his most masterful films technically and in conception, but also one of his most difficult ones.