Review: A Woman’s Face-And Kvinnas Ansikte (1938)

A Woman’s Face-And Kvinnas Ansikte (1938)

Directed by: Gustaf Molander | 95 minutes | drama | Actors: Ingrid Bergman, Tore Svennberg, Anders Henrikson, Georg Rydeberg, Gunnar Sjöberg, Hilda Borgström, Karin Kavli, Erik Berglund, Sigurd Wallén, Gösta Cederlund, Magnus Kesster, Göran Bernhard, Bror Bügler, Anna-Lisa Baude, Margareta Bergman Bodin, Carl Browallius, Erland Colliander, John Ericsson, Frithiof Hedvall, Folke Helleberg, Linnéa Hillberg, Helge Karlsson, Helfrid Lambert, Knut Lambert, Vera Lindby, Signe Lundberg-Settergren, Yngve Nyqvist, Eric von Gegerfelt

Ingrid Bergman is arguably the greatest actress the world has ever known. In any case, she occupies a special place in the list of legendary actresses from classic Hollywood. She may not have had as much punch as Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck, was not as witty and witty as Katharine Hepburn or Carole Lombard, and she also lacked the riveting hysteria that Joan Crawford mastered. But Bergman could make you empathize with her character like no other. Her looks spoke volumes, she didn’t really need words to tell a story. Bergman’s acting is characterized by subtlety, intelligence and persuasiveness. No wonder that after only a few years at the top in the Swedish film world, Hollywood was also at her feet. The film that definitively opened its doors to her was ‘A Woman’s Face’ (in Swedish ‘En Kvinnas Ansikte’) from 1938. In just 95 minutes, Bergman presents her complete arsenal of acting talent. After seeing this film, the influential American producer David O. Selznick thought he had found the ‘new Garbo’. But Bergman turned out to be much more than that!

Anna Holm (Ingrid Bergman) has had serious facial disfigurement since her childhood. She suffered burns to her face in a fire in her parental home, in which she lost both her parents. The drama did the young woman no good; she is bitter, revels in self-pity and takes revenge on the ‘evil outside world’ by carelessly defrauding people. Her latest assignment is to kill the seven-year-old rich man’s son Lars-Erik Barring (Göran Bernhard), on the orders of his uncle Torsten (Georg Rydeberg), who hopes in this way to reap the gigantic legacy of the family. Shortly before enlisting as a governess, she runs surgeon Dr. Wegert (Anders Henrikson) bumped into. He feels sorry for Anna and offers to help her. The operation succeeds and Anna has turned into a beautiful young woman. When she heads towards the Banning family under a false name, she begins to doubt her mission. And once she has met little Lars-Erik, she knows for sure; she cannot kill him. Once Torsten discovers that not only Anna’s appearance but also her character has changed, he decides to take matters into his own hands. Anna is the only one who can stop him…

The direction of ‘A Woman’s Face’ was in the hands of the famous Swedish director Gustaf Molander, with whom Bergman regularly collaborated at the beginning of her career. The script was written by Gösta Stevens, Stina Bergman (no relation) and Ragnhild Prim. The story was based on the play ‘Il était une fois’ by the Brussels-born writer Francis de Croiset. During the shooting, a few things were tinkered with the script and the ending was made up on the spot by Molander – who had a lot of trouble with what the team of script writers had come up with. The beginning and the end are the strongest about the screenplay, because they are so wonderfully counterintuitive to what was coming out of Hollywood those years. Bergman immediately portrays Anna as a bitter bitch with no scruples; heroines from American films would not soon be presented that way. It is often difficult to sympathize with such types, but Bergman manages it anyway. The middle of the film is the most predictable and mainstream, leaning towards melodrama at times. It is thanks to Bergman’s stunning acting and believable transformation that you as a viewer remain captivated. The ending is surprising because it doesn’t carry the predictable happy ending. You hardly saw that in 1930s Hollywood.

Had this film been made in the US, it would certainly have looked different. The American version would come a few years later. Bergman’s colleague Joan Crawford – nicknamed the queen of melodrama – was so overwhelmed by the film that she decided to make an American remake. This came in 1941 under the title ‘A Woman’s Face’. However, this film loses out in all respects compared to the Swedish original. Not only because Crawford filed away from the script and her character all the sharp edges that make the film so interesting, but also because her grotesque Anna is nowhere near equal to Bergman’s subtle performance. And this film absolutely stands or falls on the performance of the lead actress. So if you have the choice between the Swedish or the American version, don’t hesitate and go for the original! Enjoy the brilliant Ingrid Bergman in one of her best roles before making her move to Hollywood!

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