Sunday, August 14, 2011

Ingrid Bergman, in The Bells of St. Mary's
approximately 61 minutes and 37 seconds
49.5% of the film

The film

At a big city Catholic school, Father O'Malley and Sister Benedict indulge in friendly rivalry, and succeed in extending the school through the gift of a building.

You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

The film can’t help from being cheesy too often, but I couldn’t have expected differently after seeing Going My Way. The new element to rise the quality of the series is Ingrid Bergman, who’s energetic performance and knock-out final scenes bring more emotion.

Ingrid Bergman as Sister Mary Benedict

Oh, Ingrid, what you do to me, and I haven’t even seen most of your performances. No wonder Joan was nervous on Oscar night: you had the Golden Globe win & the award from the New York film critics! I am picking on Ingrid in a good way, because this is a surprisingly sly performance, she’s so tricky as to take a performance that’s average for 90% of the film and move it into a whole new direction in less than 10 minutes. All the rest of the performance seems like a rehearsal, while she completely has me in some ending scenes that made for the best acting scenes of this field.

Ingrid plays Sister Mary Benedict, the nun in charge of the school Father O’Malley is assigned to. She’s a young nun, very intelligent and wise, strict in many ways, but always up for any kind of well-intended competition. She’s a happy person, very optimistic when it comes to the future of the school, and never hesitating in speaking her mind. It’s a co-starring role that requites lots of smiling, joyous attitude and some fantastic acting abilities for the ending.

For the most of the film, Ingrid is not required to do much. Her acting is very luminous, very natural and comforting. Her presence on screen is always a joy, and she’s very convincing both as a nun, and as someone who feels friendly and comfortable around children, as a teacher and as a friend. While it’s always good to see her in a scene, there are no big dramatic moments to show real dramatic range.

That is, until the final part. There’s a scene that predicts the greatness to come, when she argues with Father O’Malley on not allowing Patsy, a young girl, to graduate. Her stubbornness is very well acted, and with an innocent guilt, maybe a bit of shame, elements that easily sell the scene. There’s also some singing in Swedish, and Ingrid has a beautiful voice. But what justifies the nomination and the almost-win comes from the very last 2 scenes of the character.

The most touching one is when Sister Mary is praying in the church asking God to remove the bitterness from her heart. I’m trying not to spoil the plot, especially the ending, so I won’t go into story details. The camera is on her for about 3 minutes, and it’s a perfectly believable, fantastically acted scene, all on the face. This is what you call an Oscar scene, and a smart move from the writing part, as you simply cannot take your eyes off Ingrid in this scene. It’s a short one, but so well positioned in the story that it surely becomes the one thing to take away from the film.

Very good acting can also be found in the final dialogue, seconds after the prayer scene, when Sister Benedict has a very emotional dialogue with Bing Crosby’s character (great chemistry between these 2, by the way), with both actors creating a special moment, beautifully acted and giving us through face and words more than the screenplay ever dreamed off.

Had Ingrid not won the previous year for Gaslight, the race might’ve gone differently. It’s not because she’s amazing throughout the film, as I’ve said she’s just a sweet, enjoyable presence for the most part, but the big key dramatic moments are so well positioned, it all wows, and it gives the impression you’ve just seen something very special acting-wise. Only Ingrid can make me switch from an almost-3-stars performance to a solid-4 just by bringing it with a lot of determination in the final 5-7 minutes. So: .

Final conclusions soon to come.


dinasztie said...

My thoughts, almost exactly. :) Glad you liked her.

Fritz said...

I totally agree with you. I just saw this movie and the whole time I thought 'well, she's good but not too special' and then those final scenes came...