Feature Film, 1949

Thirst

Marital quarrel between an amanuensis and a ballet dancer in a sleeping car between Basle and Stockholm.

"A disturbingly stark film, alarming yet true to life. It is like wandering through hell on earth."
Robin Hood in Stockholms-Tidningen

About the film

Thirst, a collection of short stories by Birgit Tengroth (b. 1915), was published in 1948. Svensk Filmindustri had acquired the rights to the book and commissioned Herbert Grevenius to marry the stories together into a coherent narrative for film. When Ingmar Bergman was asked to direct the result, he asked the author to play the part of Viola.

Bergman in Images: My Life in Film

'I felt intensely that I needed her cooperation on several levels. In her discreet, tactful way he helped me shape the lesbian episode. This was, at that time, inflammatory stuff, and, of course, the film censors cut a substantial piece of the dramatic scene between Birgit Tengroth and Mimi Nelson, a cut that renders the end of the sequence incomprehesible.'


Sources of inspiration

The French critic and fellow director François Truffaut has noted similarities between Thirst and two films by Alfred Hitchcock: Suspicion and Rich and Strange. Just like Hitchcock, Truffaut observes, Bergman presents a dialogue between a man and a woman with the help of almost imperceptible yet eloquent gestures, backed up by precise, stylised looks between them.

Independently of Truffaut, Bergman himself in Images put this technique down to a lesson he learned from one of the film's principal actors:

Birgit Tengroth also made a directorial contribution that I will not forget; it taught me something new and decisive. The two women are sitting together in the summer twilight, sharing a bottle of wine. Birgit is rather drunk and gets a cigarette from Mimi, who also lights it for her. Then Mimi slowly brings the burning match toward her own face and holds it for a moment by her right eye before it goes out. This was Birgit Tengroth's idea. I remember it clearly since I had never done anything like that. To bild the plot with small, almost imperceptible, suggestive details became a special component in my future filmmaking.

Shooting the film

Shooting the interiors for Thirst began on 15 March 1949, coming to an end less than a month later on 9 April. Shooting the exteriors began on 29 June, ending on 5 July.

Bergman in Images: My Life in Film

A large part of the film takes place during a train journey through was-torn Germany. In Prison I had begun to experiment with longer takes. In order to develop that technique, we had to bild a monstrous train car, one that could be taken apart in different sections. The clumsy camera used at the time could them roam around freely in compartments, corridors, and other spaces. The long scenes in Prison had come about for economical reasons. Here I was striving for another simplification: for complicated camera movements to go undetected. The studio train was far from perfect: you can see the seams if you look closely. Furthermore, I had wanted the ruins of buildings, seen through the train window, to be actually filmed in Germany, but that couldn't be done for reasons of economy. The homemade result was a less than convincing compromise. Other than that, Thirst (Known as Three Strange Loves in the United States) does show a respectable cinematographic vitality. I was developing my own way of making movies. I made myself master the ungainly machinery, and it functioned by and large as I wanted it to funtion. That was always a triumph.

Sources

  • The Ingmar Bergman Archives.
  • Ingmar Bergman, Images: My Life in Film.

Collaborators