Despite its late date, after a garishly red opening, this is almost entirely in black and white which I presume to be an artistic choice, though it could equally be a financial one – Bergman made this in Germany rather than his native Sweden, so there might well have been some belt-tightening involved. It’s a tough watch, being an investigation of a brutal (fictional) murder of a prostitute through the eyes of friends, family and acquaintances of the killer. It’s bleak and we don’t get any strong insight into why Peter Egermann (Robert Atzorn) feels compelled to kill and unable to resist, despite clearly being afraid of this compulsion.
His psychiatrist claims that Peter is a repressed homosexual and that this is responsible for his internal demons, and the idea that Peter might be homosexual or bisexual had occurred to me, though the idea that this might be responsible for his killing rage seems simplistic and fatuous, and I hope that Bergman didn’t intend this as a pat answer. Given that the previous Bergman films I’ve seen provide more questions than questions, I think this is unlikely.
Likewise, Peter’s marriage is a stormy affair, with near-constant competition frequently escalating to all-out hostility, and yet there is also a mutual dependence between the couple – this is not a healthy relationship. Peter’s relationship with his mother is also in the spotlight, as he seems to be always in the sway of either wife or mother, both domineering figures who can’t stand one another. This all adds to the picture of Peter as a trapped and unhappy man, despite his apparent and material success, and there is an overwhelming sense of doom, over and beyond the fact that we know Peter will, by the end of the film, commit a horrific and senseless act. Surely it’s this kind of film that gets Bergman his reputation as gloomy and doom-laden.