1 May 2005 | MisterWhiplash
Under-rated: this is one of the more potent Bergman romantic dramas I've seen...
...and I think part of the reason for that is, aside from some notable uses of symbolism (some subtle, some not so subtle, in part due to the photography), the story is rather simple. This gives Bergman room to try and get us to understand these characters. In lessor hands (or rather, hands not as proficient in the soul-searching drama as Bergman is) this could be almost a TV melodrama. But I would disagree with some critics- notably with Ebert- that Bergman has lost his tone with this picture. In some ways it is more modernly set than some of his other films (and that it is in English sets it apart from some of his trademark Svensk Filmindustri pictures), however it doesn't hurt it terribly so. There were times while watching the film, mostly in the first fifty minutes, that I thought this was one of Bergman's best, by giving his control somewhat over to the actors, who are all sensational. While it doesn't quite live up towards the end, and feels abruptly finished, the climax doesn't feel too compromised. The Touch is like the Adrian Lyne film (which draws itself from a Chabrol film) Unfaithful, only this film seems a little more steeped in reality than outright sexuality.
Karin (Bibi Andersson, one of Bergman's key actresses) lives a rather calm, routine life with her husband Andreas (Max von Sydow) and their two children. After her mother dies (which I suppose sets up her emotional indecisiveness for the film), she meets David (Elliot Gould), and the two slowly begin an affair. But David is not the most stable of people, and it shakes Karin up at first. Soon they fall in love, but are separated, the sort of usual machinations with an infidelity story begin to unfold, and yet not losing the emotions from before. The three key actors of the film, Andersson, Von Sydow, and Gould, seem to live in these characters, and especially Gould (for whom this would be his only role with the director) conveys a sort of double nature that is also within Karin. His performance is one that I would put in a list of his best- you can tell everything he wants and fears in his face and actions, within the careful framing, this is a man on the edge. Bergman had once described Gould as a "difficult" actor to work with, but that tension came out the right way on screen, at least from my perspective.
As I mentioned, in lessor hands this could become a further melodrama, and part of the films refusal to subvert to that category is a credit to not only Bergman, but to cinematographer Sven Nykvist. Whenever I see a film with their collaboration (or even if it's Nykvist with, perhaps, a lessor director), I always watch for how Nykvist moves the camera. How seamlessly he follows these characters, and in their darkest recesses he lights them like the light and control on their faces is part of the writing. A lot of times (appropriately so) one may not even feel the presence of the camera, as if Nykvist doesn't even have a technique. But it is here where not only does he and Bergman go with their touches of light and dark, they also go for a documentary feel in the production.
Basically, this is an experiment for Bergman, as it is for his fans to endure. He's experimenting with a genre done hundreds of times, he experiments with music (unlike some of his dramas, which includes Bach or Mozart, here it's kind of pop-sounding for the period), and he experiments with his cast this time around. Is it as powerful and awe-inspiring as his "trilogy" or his other great works? Probably not. But it is unfortunately panned down as a lessor work of his, which isn't necessarily true. The film also needs to be seen by more people of today, as it is virtually impossible to buy on video or DVD. A-