Things I read off the screen in “The Silence”

ARAKAVSANI! With a fuzzy drawing of Prince Charles on the front page.

While screening Ingmar Bergman’s THE SILENCE for students, I got obsessed with the signage, as I often do. In this film, set in an unidentified Ruritanian country arming for war, all the signs are in an imaginary gobbledygook tongue, which I’m afraid just makes them more alluring to me.



CHIN VARIETIES — that’s a place *I* want to hang out! Later, we go in with Harriet Andersson, and it’s not a museum displaying chins through the ages — a Tommy Trinder here, a Charles McGraw there — but a music hall type joint with tumbling dwarfs. Which is almost as good.


And best of all, the poster advertising a movie Elaine May hasn’t made yet. I guess they were thinking of the Babylonian goddess, but I don’t know why.

“Relax… with a Skajnok.” I’m reminded that Bergman had experience in TV advertising. This is such a good product shot, it really shows — you can take the director out of the commercials, but you can’t take the commercials out of the director.

Not technically writing, unless we’re reverting to hieroglyphs, but a pretty good drawing of Fungus the Bogeyman by young Jörgen Lindström.

Of course it’s also interesting to note how heavily the film has influenced David Lynch, not just in its masturbation and dwarfs, but in the superannuated hotel waiter (who might as well have been played by Michael Gough, really, but is actually Håkan Jahnberg), a dead ringer for Hank Worden, playing a similar role in Twin Peaks. Even the names are similar!

17 Responses to “Things I read off the screen in “The Silence””

  1. Wow, I hadn’t noticed the correlation between elderly waiters before you mentioned it, but it’s totally true! The Silence‘s hotel and the Great Northern have plenty in common — let’s not forget their shared abundance of ominous ambient sounds.

    I’ve always been fascinated, too, by this fake language Bergman chose to create. It does wonders for the movie’s distorted sense of place. If the sisters were trapped in, say, Lithuania or Romania or some Warsaw Pact nation, that would be one thing. But they’re not even on the map, so far as we know. And that tank, rumbling through the city streets…what an atmosphere!

  2. Yes, it’s a great exercise in ominous feeling, apart from its other merits. The language strikes me as a sort of pseudo-Czech, in which case the tank in the street harks both back to 1945 and forward to ’68. But it’s clearly not any one country — Bergman described the film as a vision of his personal hell.

  3. david wingrove Says:

    I think I read somewhere that THE SILENCE was shot in Estonia (which was then part of the Soviet Union) although I may well have got that wrong.

  4. specterman Says:

    I’ve long thought the Skajnok bottle a brilliant piece of art direction, immediately and economically conveying that we are in a very alien and perplexing territory. Maybe it wasn’t intentional (maybe in Sweden they have beverages in bottles shaped like that) but for British eyes it says clean the cooker/toilet with this but for godsake don’t drink it.

  5. Jenny Eardley Says:

    Gunnel Lindblom, not Harriet Andersson. While we’re on the subject of things read off the screen in Bergman films, he doesn’t usually bother with “The End”, but then there’s “The Passion of Anna” when a beautifully timed “SLUT” comes on screen after Liv’s angry face.

  6. Wow! Does this coincide with the marital break-up?

    Liv was very funny in Edinburgh about his marriage proposal: “He told me he had built a house for us to live in around the rock where we had sat and talked one day…” Bergman must have gotten used to being ribbed about this, because in his autobio he presages his account of this with the words “Extremely foolishly.” Hey, don’t knock it, it WORKED.

    Of course, Harriet’s not in this one at all.

    I wouldn’t have thought it necessary to shoot anywhere exotic, but maybe they needed to avoid recognizably Swedish buildings… The IMDb just lists Svensk Filmindustri studios. I figure he built the street crossing, and most of the views from the train are either nondescript or faked…

  7. Jenny Eardley Says:

    Haha! The Passion of Anna was 1969 so I think it was coming to an end by then, I didn’t think they were married at all though? Maybe he proposed and was going to get a divorce so they could marry.

  8. David Boxwell Says:

    I think it’s Albania. Or what I imagine Albania to be like if I were Bergman. A very scary place that makes Swedish tourists go mad.

  9. Jenny Eardley Says: She’s not angry at all, I remembered a big old slanging match!

  10. The Berman Foundation webpage has this to say about the film’s location and language:

    As Bergman expanded on his idea to Sjöman, he explained that the film would be set in an Eastern European state “with troop transports, in smoke and grime”. Wondering about a suitable location, he settled on Grenoble: “I recall it as grimy and awful and lacking in culture: no concert hall, no theater, only striptease.”

    Even at this early stage he had decided that the language in the film should be a made up one, but that he would use his wife’s mother tongue, Estonian, as a basis.

  11. Now we know! I shall recommend it to my Estonian student. It was good having a Spanish student at the screening because she could translate the dwarfs.

    Liv described her continuing reltionship with the Great Man along the lines off, “Well, he IS a genius, but even a genius needs to have someone who can tell him when he’s being silly…”

  12. Arthur S. Says:

    I saw this on a 35mm print two years ago and truth be told it was a powerful viewing experience for me. I became a true Bergmanite at the end of that.

    THE SILENCE has had a major influence on world cinema. Bela Tarr is in this film as is Michael Haneke. And loads of others. In addition of course to David Lynch.

  13. I would think even those who dislike Bergman would have to acknowledge the breadth and depth of his influence, and in several distinct modes — film as nightmare, film as play, film as film.

  14. Plus it may be the only movie Jean-Luc Godard ever mocked for pretentious incoherence. It’s like the skinny kid with buck teeth that the fat kid with acne beats up.

  15. Nedeljko Says:

    The first drink Ingrid (Ester) is having, around 12 minutes into the movie, is Užička Šljivovica. A sort of brandy from the town of Užice in former Yugoslavia, now Serbia. It is one of the biggest brands of Serbia.

  16. Thanks! I have actually drunk Slivovitz, both professional and home-brew so I should have guessed this. It was Sam Peckinpah’s drink of choice while shooting Cross of Iron in Yugoslavia, which may account for the way his mind disintegrated during the filming.

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