Hour of the Wolf (1968)
This film, which was temporarily shelved in 1965 when Bergman contracted pneumonia, is about the reclusive artist Johan Borg (Max von Sydow) who, along with his wife Alma (Liv Ullmann), retreats to a small island in the archipelago in the hope of finding inner peace. He is nevertheless afflicted by nightmares, anxieties and the demons of his own failing artistry. Often described as a horror drama or a Gothic horror story, it is the only Bergman film of its kind and one which is sprinkled with elements of surrealism. The exterior shots in Hour of the Wolf were mainly filmed at Hovs Hallar – in almost the same spot where the famous scene in The Seventh Seal involving Death playing chess had been shot more than ten years earlier. For Max von Sydow, it meant returning to these uniquely beautiful but menacing natural surroundings (now filmed by the cinematographer Sven Nykvist). This time, he meets not Death but several demons and various other exploitative characters. Sometimes these are real and, on other occasions, merely imagined, although the two mental states become increasingly indistinguishable.
In the film, Hovs hallar and its surrounding seascape are a constant source of terror. While attempting to paint on the beach or taking his restless walks up on the plateau, the artist is subjected to varyingly baffling and disturbing experiences. The house with impressive views in which Johan and Alma live was reportedly purpose-built. As suggestive as it is unsettling, the film’s longest scene – where the dark, jagged cliffs make their strongest impression – is that in which Johan is both drawn to and terrified by a young boy demon with vampire tendencies whom he is ‘forced’ to strike down and drown. This particular sequence has been the subject of a great many lengthy interpretations.
In Images: My Life in Film, Bergman writes the following with regard to the alleged erotic motifs in the scene:
‘The problem with it is that the demon should have been naked! And to take it further, Johan should have been naked as well. I was vaguely aware of this while we were filming the scene but couldn’t bring myself to – or didn’t dare to – or couldn’t bring myself to dare suggest it to Max von Sydow.’