It Rains on Our Love

June 29, 2019

This week I watched Bergman’s It Rains on Our Love (1946). It’s a twisting tale of a lowly, desperate pair who meet in a train station and, though a series of rather reckless choices, wind up making a go of a relationship.

It’s an eclectic mix—they get caught in the rain, break into a cabin, end up renting the cabin, and befriending some very odd characters—but it does manage to tie up the many loose plots with Bergman’s characteristic aplomb and affect by the end. It is both social realist and magical realist, presenting the hopeless prospects of the well-intentioned poor alongside a somewhat flimsy deux ex machina, foreshadowed none-too-subtly from its first scene.

The leads, Barbro Kollberg and Birger Malmsten, are not immediately recognisable as Bergman regulars, though the latter was in The Silence (1963). I have seen a few others Malmsten was in, including Prison (1949), Thirst (1949), Summer Interlude (1951), and Waiting Women (1952), though I couldn’t recall his face from those. More noticeably It Rains features a shockingly young Gunnar Björnstrand as a petty bureaucrat.

What was most interesting to me was to see how quickly Bergman improved. Nine years after It Rains on Our Love he made Dreams, which I think is quite underrated, as well as the excellent Smiles of a Summer Night.

Only two years after that, he made both The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries. That one year—1957—was insane enough that quite a good documentary was recently made about it, called, in something of an understatement, Bergman: A Year in a Life (2018) (trailer).

The difference between It Rains on Our Love (1946) and Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) suggests a steady improvement over nearly a decade. But to ascend from that to Wild Strawberries (1957) in just two years represents a jump of dizzying height. It somehow does not give the impression that slow and steady wins the race, but that sustained serious ambition can produce something like a pressure cooker from which anything might burst.

This view of Bergman’s trajectory may well be biased. And yet it would be difficult to argue that one ought not to try on the basis of such biases.

The documentary makes it clear that Bergman’s approach was largely pathological; the people alive today who knew him then still seem traumatised by those times. Yet how many failures, either in Bergman’s own life, or in the endeavours of artists more broadly, might we endure to retain his masterpieces?

I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter or see more here.