Sjoberg deteriorated, almost as if abashed by the eminence of his former scenarist, Ingmar Bergman. Perhaps it was a hard thing at fifty-five or so to become the number two in Sweden. But this interpretation obscures the fact that Sjoberg v;as once a major talent, with a handful of very inventive films.
He trained at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm and went on the stage in 1927. His first film is an oddity, an utterly realistic story set in Lapland. During the 1930s he was the foremost stage director in Sweden. He became a director during the difficult war years and made two films that showed an astonishing range and sharpness considering Sweden’s neutrality: The Road to Heaven is a beautiful fairy tale in which a young man sets out for heaven to ask for the life of his girl to be returned after she has died. Its easy cre¬ation of a spirit world amid idyllic countryside is entirely natural. Frenzy, however, is a claustrophobic study of sexual insecurity related to guilt and sadism that makes a very striking comment on fascism.
That film was scripted by Bergman and introduced the young Mai Zetterling. Sjoberg used her again in Iris och Lojtnantshjarta, about a maid left pregnant by a young officer of good family. Atmospheric, psychological, and melancholy, it shows Sjoberg’s increasing camera mobility. Bara en Mor concerns a young woman who scandalizes society by bathing naked and is thus forced into a life of lonely drudgery; it is virtually a vehicle for the vibrant Eva Dahlbeck.
But Sjoberg’s finest period is in the early 1950s. Miss Julie, played by Anita Bjork, is a remarkable version of Strindberg that avoids flashbacks by having past and present on screen at the same time. As so often with Sjoberg, such ingenuity seems uncontrived in the very fluid realization. Indeed, Sjoberg has a more flexible camera style, and employs movement and perspective more than is usual in Sweden. This is best demonstrated in Barabbas, a very complex film involving Hashbacks, great use of shadow, and a marvelous period reconstruction. Karin Mansdotter, another period piece, is a version of Strindberg’s play, Erik XIV, and a compelling study of increasing madness growing out of the corruption of the court.
There is no clear consistency in Sjoberg, and his last four films were ordinary, but there seems every-reason to reappraise those ten years after the war.