We've had the Passion according to Mark, the Passion according to Matthew, Luke and John. Now here's the Passion according to Ingmar.
So it's a religious film. A Christian film. The symbolism is all in place. First thing we hear are sheep bells. First thing we see are sheep.
But if it's a Passion there ought to be a Christ. Is Anna a Christ? Hardly. She's an uptight god-botherer. Is Andreas a Christ? This is slightly more plausible; the first we see of him he's doing carpentry- but he's a carpenter who does a botched job- therefore a false Christ. And is there really anything Christ-like about his anomie and self-contempt?
No, Bergman is playing a game with us. He has hidden his Christ among the supporting cast. The main characters overlook him and because we have been directed/misdirected to concentrate on them, we the audience miss him too.
He is a good man (explicitly a good Samaritan who saves Andreas' life) who is falsely accused, and then commits suicide after being roughed up and humiliated by vigilantes.
They know not what they do.
And that's what the film's about. The foreground figures are so engrossed in their own trivial sufferings that they miss the significance of what is going on in their midst. I've seen medieval and renaissance paintings and carvings that make the same point. Jesus hangs on the cross and at the foot of it a mass of ordinary people carry on with their utterly ordinary lives.
Anna has a dream. A young man is being hustled away to execution. She falls at the feet of the young man's mother and is pushed away. She doesn't get it. Neither do we.
As the hanged man lies on the bed a shaft of sunlight suddenly illuminates his face.
A Passion is a baffling, frustrating experience. Why are we being asked to spend so much time with these infuriatingly self-absorbed characters? It seems hopeless, pointless, the most gratuitously depressing of all Bergman's films. But that's because we share the characters obtuseness. Like them, we're missing what's in plain view.
There is goodness in the world, there is hope. It has taken the form of a bronchitic old man with a history of mental illness.
Remember the Zeffirelli Jesus of Nazareth with Robert Powell? At an early stage in the planning of that project Bergman was approached to direct. He said he'd like to do a modern dress version on Faro. The producers and backers swiftly lost interest.
History records that that movie was never made.
Oh, but it was.