Ingmar Bergman | 1hr 35min
Ingmar Bergman screenplays are rarely so blunt as they were during his first few years of filmmaking where character dynamics tilted towards melodrama, and yet his second feature, It Always Rains on Our Love, wraps up its candid message of acceptance in a surprisingly sweet, magical realist fable. Perhaps if it came out even a year later, one might have even been tempted to draw a direct line of influence from It’s a Wonderful Life, so it is somewhat of a coincidence that these two films were both released in 1946 given the formal similarities. Never mind the brief sojourn into a Christmastime setting, or even the guardian angel narrator watching over his troubled protagonists. Just as George Bailey is met with misfortune and failure at every turn leading up to his epiphany, so too does it seem as if the entire world is united in its torment of young couple David and Maggi, keeping them from starting new lives together away from the trauma of their past.
Quite curiously, the only person willing to come to their defence is an elderly man neither know on any personal level, and yet who somehow knows them intimately. In the opening minutes, he stands among a group of street pedestrians huddled beneath umbrellas, and as they escape from the rain onto a bus, he remains standing alone on the sidewalk. His address to the camera arrives as more than just a knowing wink, as he explicitly foreshadows his own place in the story, offers commentary on its sequence of events, and even refers to Maggi as his “leading character.” Later when David hits rock bottom in a bar, the mystery man makes contact with him for the first time to offer words of wisdom, though he makes an even greater impact in the final act when, seemingly out of nowhere, he takes on the mantle of the couple’s defence attorney.
Our narrator’s appearances through the film are sparse though, as Bergman is sure not to rely on him too much through David and Maggi’s navigation of a complicated, judgemental world. The train station where they quite literally run into each other marks a crossroad in both their lives, with both searching for fresh starts. Where David is reintegrating into society after spending time in prison, Maggi has recently fallen pregnant, and neither have any family to fall back on. They are far from perfect people, especially given David’s initial reaction to learning about Maggi’s baby, and yet quarrels are always followed by real remorse and reconciliation between the two.
The true villain in this piece can’t be nailed down to any single character, but it is rather the mounting difficulties of living in a prejudiced society which congeal into a single menace. While they dream of a quiet, stable life, they find neighbours accusing them of theft, welfare services threatening to separate them, and bureaucratic officials evicting them from their own home. The stillbirth of Maggi’s baby adds yet a greater pain to their misery, denying them even a target to aim their anger at. Some odd comedic interludes revolving around their neighbours don’t quite cohere with everything else going on, but Bergman is otherwise confident in his storytelling, building towards a court case that condenses every nasty jab we have witnessed into a barrage of cruel attacks.
It Always Rains on Our Love contains a good deal of handsome photography, especially in its wide range of elegantly composed establishing shots, though it isn’t until we enter the courtroom that its visual style manifests more fully. Minor antagonists from throughout the film step up to the witness stand and deliver their testimony in close-ups to the camera, and Bergman moves through them rapidly in a montage set against the flipping pages of a law book, cornering his protagonists into an inescapable dead end. As such, the return of the guardian angel is timely, making for a nice formal comparison against virtually every other character. He is virtuous and kind, but not without a sense of humour, demonstrating an intangible goodness in the universe existing beyond humanity’s trivial prejudices. The perspective he offers is straightforward but sincere, simply asking the world’s imperfect youths are afforded a little more grace.
“That’s what this whole business is all about. It’s about two people who would say ‘Nothing concerns us’ because they’ve been told ‘You’re no concern of ours.’ On the other hand, we have their love for each other. Their efforts, albeit awkward, to fit into society. We should look upon that with favour.”
The elderly man’s final, parting gift to them marks the film with particularly poetic bookends, as Bergman ties back in the motif of rain from the opening scene, pouring a dour gloom on top of our characters. This time though, they possess their guardian angel’s umbrella. They may never see him again, but he has passed on the wisdom they need to carve out their own place in a bleak world, and weather whatever it casts down on them. Bergman would go on to write and direct more complex dramas than It Always Rains on Our Love, and yet the touch of fantasy he injects into this fable of abject misery is charming nonetheless, formally rounding out a heartfelt call for compassion towards society’s outcasts.
It Rains On Our Love is not currently available to stream in Australia.