This is a post I started writing in the summer of 2008 and then abandoned for some reason, but since this unmissable film is playing this evening at MoMA I thought I’d resurrect it in its unfinished form.
The Touch is Ingmar Bergman’s Zabriskie Point: an English-language detour made at the height of its director’s international reputation that, because the eyes of the world were upon it, suffered far worse from critics than it might have done and gained an undeserved reputation as a giant turkey. Rarely seen, and unavailable on DVD, New York’s cinephiles were treated last Thursday to Elliott Gould’s personal print of the film. I had seen it on VHS*, back in the mid ’90s, but I remembered almost nothing about it beyond the fact that it was much better than I’d expected.
Usually when I see a film that I haven’t seen in over a decade there is one striking, unusual scene, or sometimes just a gesture, that unleashes some buried synapse in my memory banks. With The Touch there was little that I could recall having seen before, beyond, for some reason, Bibi Andersson’s woolly hat. That hat plays a pivotal role in the film’s most egregious scene: a what-not-to-wear montage of Bibi getting ready for her first tryst, scored to Burt Bacharachesque barbershopping and filmed with—zut alors—jump cuts! It’s like nothing else in the entire Bergman canon, but it’s very like scenes you’ll have seen in Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan or Lyndsay Lohan movies. But was Bergman the first to explore this particular cinematic dead-end?
Since I never got around to discussing much more about the film, let me just quote from MoMA’s synopsis: “The Touch is a low-key, intimate drama set on the island of Gotland, just south of the filmmaker’s home in Fårö. Shortly after her mother’s death, a Swedish woman has an adulterous affair with the American archaeologist friend of her doctor husband. Andersson creates a finely tuned portrayal of a woman facing a midlife crisis, and the sparsely lit, claustrophobic interiors and subdued autumnal exteriors are beautifully photographed by cinematographer Sven Nykvist. The Touch, a Swedish-U.S. coproduction, was shot and released in two versions: one with Swedish and English dialogue, and one entirely in English. The original bilingual version—the version released in Sweden and now presented in this Festival—has been unavailable for a long time.”
*What is the deal with this VHS cover that I found on eBay? “Produced and Directed by Lars Owe Carlberg”? “Screenplay by Ingmar Bergman”? Did Bergman hate this film so much that at one point he tried to disown it?
Meanwhile, an anecdote about meeting Gould and discussing The Touch here.