The Touch (1971) * * * | Ingmar Bergman Retrospective 2018

February 20th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Ingmar Bergman; Cast: Bibi Andersson, Elliot Gould, Max von Sydow, Sheila Reid; Sweden/USA 1971, 115′.

Sometimes, a ‘neglected’ feature is in fact no masterpiece, even if directed by a genius like Ingmar Bergman: THE TOUCH, the director’s first English language film has not aged well, and suffers from an unevenness which is a-typical for the filmmaker. But despite its flaws this tale about a three year long ménageà-trois, featuring a bourgeois Swedish couple from a provincial town, and an enigmatic, slightly disturbed Jewish archaeologist, caught the headlines nearly fifty years ago.

Karin (Andersson) and her husband Andreas (von Sydow), a doctor in the local hospital, live with their two children and a cute dog named Bobby in a clean and modernist style house outside the town’s medieval walls. Karin is house-proud and obsessed with running the household, often to the point of caricature. Andreas is a workaholic, who is as self-contained and detached as the house and as clean as his operating theatre. He loves his wife but their relationship is traditional  – he is the breadwinner, she the hausfrau who looks after their well-behaved children, all fitting in with his working hours. In this perfectly orderly set-up comes David Kovac (Gould), an English-speaking archaeologist, who is working at a site in the town. He falls in love with Karin, who meets him for the first time, in floods of tears, after the death of her mother. For Karin this is an exciting escapade rather than a passionate sexual adventure. Their sexual relationship is procedural rather than lustful at first, and the relationship is anything but smooth: the self-obsessed David (who tried to commit suicide just before meeting Karin), is moody as well as (self)destructive, and Karin has the direct, ingenuous approach of the true ingenue. Karin seems fascinated by him, because he is the total opposite of her husband, needy and out of control. He becomes another child, awakening in her feelings of motherhood, and in the end, she is pregnant, and follows David to England, where she meets his sister Sara (Reid), who suffers from a muscular disease, and is totally dependent on her brother. Perhaps, Karin can see her own position reflected in Sara, because she finally comes to a decision.

THE TOUCH suffers from Gould’s overplaying his part, whilst Andersson and von Sydow are just perfect. The constant chance from Swedish to English feels unnatural. But it is mainly Bergman’s script, which is also much too overwrought and verbose, undermining the emotional credibility of the narrative. We are never really convinced that a rational and unemotional woman like Karin, could fall for a man-child like David and tolerate his moods for such a long time. She might see in the younger man a son, she never had – but again we cannot believe, that she would fall so completely apart like she does. The few scenes with Sara seem like an appendix, somehow one expects her to contribute more to shed light on her brother’s simply too enigmatic personality. It is perhaps also the timing, that explains that THE TOUCH is so overlooked – it was followed by two Bergman masterpieces: Cries and Whispers and Scenes from a Marriage. AS

SCREENING DURING BFI INGMAR BERMAN RETROSPECTIVE JANUARY – MARCH 2018 when it will simultaneously be available on BFI Player, The Touch will be released on DVD/Blu-ray by the BFI on 23 April. This will be the first time that it has ever been released on DVD anywhere in the world. For more information on all the BFI’s Ingmar Bergman activity see here.


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