Sawdust and Tinsel

Sawdust and Tinsel (Ingmar Bergman, 1953)

An aging circus ringmaster visits his estranged wife to see his young sons. Meanwhile, his jealous young lover has an affair with an actor.

Ingmar Bergman has left a tremendous amount of film to his fans behind him and his later career was more internationally followed by fans and media. But his pre The Seventh Seal films, prior to 1957 if you prefer, are lesser known except for the hilarious Smiles of a Summer Night and the sexy Summer With Monica. Back then, only initiated cinephiles watched and enjoyed early Bergman films.

Staring Harriet Andersson, Sawdust and Tinsel is seen as one of the most rewarding gems that Bergman directed. Involving the lives of the members of a moving circus, we follow the constant humiliation of his characters and how they are outcasts of the conformist society. Bergman observes the lives of artists he sure could relate to. His career of film and theater director led him to pass into many difficult process that can be compared to what is seen in Sawdust and Tinsel.

Apart from the fact that much of the story and the character involvement are recurrent themes in Bergman’s films, the photography by Sven Nykvist easily links to the wonderful shots of The Seventh Seal and the presence of travelling performers like in his The Magician and the aforementioned masterpiece.
On the other hand, the story is quite heavy and feels very academic in its treatment of structure and its approach to drama. I believe that Bergman was still in his shell with his storytelling abilities and he later had his own voice with Wild Strawberries or Cries and Whispers for instance.

Since many of the characters are despicable and are difficult to relate to it is a film that may leave its audience cold and loose points when compared to the best offerings that Bergman has done in his career. Still, lesser Bergman is still better than most director’s best films. For Bergman fans it is an essential viewing, for completists it is worth the look, and for the average movie-goer I’d suggest you get by The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries before getting to Sawdust and Tinsel. It is far from being an average movie but this is the kind of feature that could but that was essential to its director to get to better works. Finally, it is an Ingmar Bergman film that delivers a genuine Ingmar Bergman film.


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