When you enter film school or you start to develop a love for film, there are certain directors and movies that you must see in order to develop your palate and to see where this medium was and where it is going. These films are the obvious ones, like 8 1/2, Wild Strawberries, Casablanca, or even more modern ones like Goodfellas. (hah modern meaning the nineties I suppose.) But after a while you run out of movies that the AFI thinks should be on a top 100 list. This has happened to me. In fact it has happened a long time ago. So long ago in fact that I have visited these top director’s filmographies on imdb more than I care to share. I have run through their medium ranked films (films that people should say you watch if you enjoyed their one major contribution to film history) and am now in the phase of trying to find rare and rarely watched films. I actually kind of relish this phase in my film watching journey. I can find movies that may be overlooked because it doesn’t have a big star, or is a genre the director doesn’t usually work in, or is disowned by the director and shed some light on them in this blog and among my interactions with people who care about film. (like my ceiling…. hey he is a person in my mind) A classic case in point is Ingmar Bergman and the film that is this title: The Devil’s Eye.
The Devil’s Eye is a comedy, which is something that Bergman doesn’t devote a whole lot of time to. Most of his films deal with pretty serious subject matter. Sometimes that subject matter ends up having comic moments in it, but overall they are never considered a comedy. One reason I knew this was a comedy (or at least the director wanted us to think it was a comedy) was when the narrator would tell us that it was. This is usually a troubled sign for a genre piece like this. In fact I would not say that this was a comedy so much as a satire. A satire of a faith that these women and men hold dear and the devil likes to test.
The plot starts with the devil being pain. He has something in his eye. Some would say it is a sty and everyone knows the only way to cure a sty is to torment an innocent young woman. This woman is about to get married to a man she loves, is full of faith and virginal in every sense of the word. Imagine if she spreads this virtue to her friends and family. Then there will be no one left to torture in hell! So the devil dispatches Don Juan to seduce this woman into one big sin. In exchange he will have one day and one night on Earth with his servant and his sentence reduced. Don Juan goes to the surface and discovers this woman is more of a challenge than he has ever had. Normally this type of character would be a totally flat and boring woman, but she is funny, she is witty and she is breathtaking in her honesty. Instead of Don Juan seducing her, it ends up that she is seducing him. He ends up in love with her but unable to dissuade her from her love of her fiance.
Despite the silly conceit of the film, it is grounded in the reality that Bergman is so famous for. He brings a spiritual inquiry to the plot that shouldn’t be in such a light film. The devil and his minions test the vicar (the virtuous woman’s father), the vicar’s wife, the young woman and even her fiance who is barely in the film and they all end up being okay because of their honest belief not just in God but also in the good of people. But are they really okay? As a part of her seduction of Don Juan, the woman ended up kissing him. But on her wedding night she lies to her new husband by saying that she has never kissed another man except for him. It is a minor victory for the Devil, but it is enough to ease his sty. The Devil doesn’t care why you are down in hell, just the fact that you are there is enough for him. That is where the satire comes in. That is also where the story has its biting edge. No matter how sweet and good you are, if you slip even once, the Bible dictates that you must go to hell. (Purgatory is not really mentioned in the Bible, by the way. It was a fabrication made up by the Church that has little basis in the original text.) Even in his minor works, Bergman is able to examine religion, life and love with a flick of a wrist.