- Gareth Crook
The Human Voice (1966) - 9/10
This is what used to be called a TV Movie or Straight to TV Film. Do we categorise films this way anymore or has streaming done away with such things. It’s a slight cheapening of the feature film in that the production values are much lower, the run time clipped and the expectations reduced. Now true, this is clearly filmed on different stock to what you’d expect from 60s cinema, but it’s bright realism actually helps. As does the 4:3 ratio that makes modern eyes feel as trapped as the woman on screen. Ah yes, the woman. The only character here, that’s seen at least. She remains simply ‘A Woman’ throughout, but this is Ingrid Bergman. Even if you’re not a cinephile, I’m sure that name instantly suggests class and this oozes it. She awakes in a room in Hampstead according to the rotary telephone, alone for only a dog. Chain smoking and distressed. Clearly she’s troubled. We’re searching the room for clues as the telephone rings and we learn of her lover on the other end. We only ever hear her side of the conversation and her inner thoughts. Slowly picking through the details of events that have lead her to this frazzled person before us. Bergman is magnetic. Running through a dizzying array of emotions and portraying each magnificently. Holding the camera that only moves when it really needs to and always effortlessly. It does look very simple, but the camerawork is gorgeously understated. Interacting with Bergman like a dance partner. We learn that the lover is now a recent ex-lover. Torn photos next to the overflowing ashtray. Based on a play, it’s set like a stage. A life in a small apartment single room. A bed, a chaise, a sink, a chair, a desk and a table… with the telephone. The telephone is the device by which we learn everything. Props around the room only used to heighten her distress. But the telephone is also her anchor. Whilst the conversation continues, she clings on to hope, before another wave of reality washes over her. At 50 minutes, it’s essentially one long scene, playing out in real time. Giving us a window into the cruel world of a break up. Bergman was 50 when this was filmed. She looks great of course, but she uses her age to inject an extra neurosis to her panic at being left alone. It’s heartbreaking stuff, as she descends further into a wallowing grief. It’s hard not to project where we’re headed and it’s quite agonising. Every word rung for as much tension as possible, but there’s an understated control here. As staged as things are, it’s feels honest, truthful… and captivating.