With a filmography comprised of over 60 films, much of Ingmar Bergman’s work is placed in a life of anonymity under their more famous counterparts—namely the films that are widely considered his masterpieces: “The Seventh Seal” (1957), “Wild Strawberries” (1957), and “Persona” (1966). “To Joy” (1950) stands as one of these anonymous films and while it hasn’t received the widespread acclaim of the titles mentioned above, “To Joy—“ for Bergman veterans—offers a look at the director’s style relatively early on in his career and for newcomers offers a more accessible starting point into Bergman’s films as a whole.
The defining moment of “To Joy” is arguably the beginning of the film: a simple wide shot of an orchestra at play, its conductor (Victor Sjöström of “Wild Strawberries” fame) at the lead. As much as Bergman masks “To Joy” under the guise of a romance film—although one that is atypical—“To Joy” is about the relationship not just between music and the musicians who make them but the way in which music drives the socio-economic and romantic relationships between those musicians.
“To Joy’s” main character, Stig Eriksson, (Stig Olin) is driven to reach new creative heights at any cost—including the risk of destroying the love between himself and those closest to him. Bergman never turns the story into a grandiose one of melodrama but understands how to magnify the unseen inner turmoil of his characters while still retaining a poetic nature that’s associated with the nature of art-house films.
While “To Joy’s opening shot is indeed it’s defining one, Bergman’s crown achievement in directing the film comes at a scene later on: the recording of the orchestra not simply at play but practice. In recording this scene, Bergman takes advantage of the nature of orchestra music—the way in which different instrumental sections join one another at different times throughout a song—in order to work less like a film director and more like a painter with the camera aptly being used like a paintbrush.
The musicians at their seats are made into synecdoches in a manner that reflects the ontology of the film itself. It’s not the human body parts which Bergman uses to this effect but rather the musical instruments which serve as extensions of their own physical being. As different sections jump into the foray, Bergman quickly focuses the camera on the origin of the sound—the movement of the camera mimicking the stroke of the brush. Furthermore, Bergman times the movement of the camera with the music on hand creating an effect which both draws attention and magnifies the effect of the camera, creating—where, here, the nature of the orchestra music and the song being played call for it—a magnificent sense of grandiose, one which can only stem from the various combination of directing image and sound properly.