Robert Beksinski’s review published on Letterboxd:
"Lord, please let my soul come to maturity before it is reaped."
- A New Year's prayer for all to dwell on as quoted by Death
It is difficult to begin to describe Victor Sjostrom's film in which is one of the very few films that deserves the title "masterpiece". Singularly one could use words in its description such as influential, important, or innovative. And in other words one could describe the film as one of the greatest morality tales ever told. The Phantom Carriage is also comparable to Dickens "A Christmas Carol" in many ways. Just switch the holiday to New Years and the similar Dickensian ghost story unfolds with a moral lesson to be learned while looking back on one's life full of regrets and remorse. The main difference may be The Phantom Carriage does not come across as a fantasy story told by the great English writer. It is a very dark tale, morbid and depressing. It is a story that can test one's humanity if their emotional being is not affected by what is shown on the screen.
The Phantom Carriage is truly a devastating watch and it can be proven by the impact it had on a young man who would be so inspired by the film that he grew up to become one of the world's greatest filmmaking forces. This is the movie that made a young Ingmar Bergman realize what his true passion is and the dream to follow in his future-mentor's footsteps. To just read the back story on the relationship between Bergman and Sjostrom is as interesting as any movie itself. It is not very common that a man can meet his idol in his lifetime let alone be able to work and collaborate with him as well. But their relationship like many creative giants in friction with one another was often tumultuous. It however has shaped the world of cinema forever as we know it and the influence that both of these men had on the medium is incomparable.
Back to the film as its history could fill up pages. The Phantom Carriage is now widely known for its groundbreaking special effects for its time and its non-linear story function that contains not only flashback sequences but flashbacks within a flashback. The cinematography is so spot on and rich in detail. Sjostrom frames his scenes just like the later duo of Bergman/ Nykvist would do. The use of color tint in the restoration provides even more depth and life to its images playing on shadows and fog in the night. There are also two main scores accompanied with this film and I must say that it is imperative that the only way to watch it is with the one score in particular. And that is famed Swedish composer Matti Bye's beautiful and haunting score. It is actually some of the best music I have ever heard accompanied with a silent film. The other score is performed by experimental team KTL and is nothing more than a monotonous eerie tone throughout that never changes its tune despite what may change in the film.
The acting led by Victor Sjostrom himself is nothing short of spectacular. What one may be accustomed to seeing in silent films the majority of the time is over-acting as a means to make up for the lack of dialogue. In this film they did not do that nor did they have to. The acting was always brutally realistic and heart wrenching in almost every scene. Sjostrom puts on display one of my favorite acting performances on top of directing one of my favorite films just all around hitting the ball out of the park in a baseball reference. Hilda Borgström I might add plays Sjostroms' characters' wife and is also superb. I bring her up in this review though to point out her uncanny resemblance to English actress Lesley Manville. I watched the whole time throughout the film trying to figure out in my brain what movie I had seen her in before. But it comes to be revealed I have seen none of her other films except this one. So my only other idea is I confused her with Manville who began acting in films nearly 30 years after Borgström's death.Still a interesting thought of two woman who look alike from two completely different time periods and two different countries at that.
So on this New Years Eve and the others to come, I hope all to be safe and sound. As the cursed soul to die last before the stroke of midnight may have to fill Death's decrepit shoes for the year to come.