Bergman’s forgotten masterpiece – The Touch (Film Review)

The Touch (1971), starring Elliott Gould (MASH, Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, Ocean’s Eleven, Friends) alongside regulars Bibi Andersson and Max von Sydow, was the celebrated Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman’s first English language film. The film was not acclaimed in its time, and due to the mixed reviews it disappeared for decades. Now, for the first time ever, after its theatrical release, it’s being released on DVD.

The Touch is a psychologically compelling story about Karin (Andersson) – a happily married woman content with her bourgeois life in a rural Swedish town. Her idyllic life is scattered when her husband, Andreas, befriends David Kovac, a foreign archeologist, who rather boldly declares his love for Karin. She anxiously begins an adulterous love affair with David who messes up her tidy existence. Despite his extreme mood swings and occasional bursts of violence, Karin grows emotionally dependent on him. Even when her husband finds out and gives her an ultimatum, she cannot choose between the tranquil life with Andreas and the passionate turmoil with the foreigner. David’s disappearance seems natural, helping Karin to find herself again, and even gather strength to refuse his marriage proposal in the end.

Yet it is not merely Bergman’s utterly compelling and psychologically rigorous script that turns The Touch into the masterpiece that I believe it is. The true mastery is hidden in the layers of visual nuances and symbols. For example nature is persistently existent in almost every shot. Karin is mostly dressed in bright colours of autumn, she is full of life; but as soon as she gets more and more involved with David, her colours begin to dim as his dark colours begin to brighten. It’s also not difficult to notice the juxtaposition of Karin’s bright and open home with David’s dark, dusty dwelling place.

Many have suggested that The Touch, despite practically being a comedy in the outset, is too bleak, too tragic, too sorrowful. Even Bergman himself despised it, saying that it marked “the very bottom” for him, and that he “feels ashamed” and “detests” the film. But I disagree; perhaps because times have changed, and what people appreciate in a film has changed since The Touch was made almost 50 years ago. The film is subtle, yet intense and evocative – not only in its plot and performances, but also in its colour schemes, camerawork, and soundtrack (or the lack of it)…that list could go on and on. I cannot tell you whether it’s worth a watch, it depends too much on personal preference. But if you don’t give it a chance, you might just be missing out on quite a lot.

Dir: Ingmar Bergman

Scr: Ingmar Bergman

Cast: Elliott Gould, Bibi Andersson, Max von Sydow

Prd: Ingmar Bergman

Music: Jan Johannson

DOP: Sven Nykvist

Runtime: 115 minutes

The Touch is in cinemas from the 23rd February 2018