10 April 2020 | clanciai
The problem of being incapable of any sincere faith
Nobel prize winner Par Lagerkvist speculates in the character and destiny of the thief and murderer Barabbas, who by the will of the people was liberated to let Christ be crucified and executed in his stead. It's a gloomy tale. After his liberation he returns to his wild life among thieves, murderers, prostitutes and other criminals and is caught up by justice and brought to slave duty in the copper mines of Cyprus, where he meets a fellow prisoner who is a Christian. Barabbas tries to understand his colleague's Christianity but fails to acquire some sincere faith but becomes formally a Christian anyway. When his fellow prisoner is punished and crucifiedf for his faith, Barabbas is let free once again because he confesses to his disbelief. He just can't believe, and that's his fate and constant problem. One could call the story 'an atheist's gospel', for not even in the end, when he has helped to set fire to Rome and is crucified as a Christian for that crime, he can't recognise Christ or God or any god. He dies as he lived in darkness.
Of course it's a precarious project to make a film on such a depressive book, and nevertheless another film was made some years later on the same book with Anthony Quinn as Barabbas, which didn't make the story any better. This film is better, though, than the late remake, it is in black and white with exquisite photography all the way (Sven Nykvist), and an abundance of scenes are reallky striking for their scenographic artistry and dramatic quality - Alf Sjöberg was above all a dramtist and (as Ingmar Bergman confessed in his memoirs) a better director than he himself. The dramatic quality is prominent in all his films. Here he uses splendid actors to bring life to a rather morbid tale - and succeeds, because of the great visual imagination, making almost every scene a visual drama in itself. The sequences from Israel are the most interesting and valuable ones, while the story later on gets a little muddled up in Rome, although the actor playing St. Peter (Nils Srrandmark) also makes a great and convincing performance. Ulf Palme as Barabbas is the chief actor, though, leading the performance, and as soon as he is out of the picture you miss him.
The main asset of the film is the fantastic oftentimes expressionistic scenography of high dramatic qualirty, while you will find plenty of arguments of objection against the speculative construction of this tale, alhough it could be Par Lagerkvist's greatest novel.