Brink of Life

Brink of Life – Ingmar Bergman – 1958

Nära livet CoverOriginal title: Nära livet
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)
Year: 1958
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Duration: 84 min.
Genre: Drama

Brink of Life

I have seen most of the big Ingmar Bergman films, so I guess I was not really expecting Brink of Life to be as good as it is obscure. Whoa! Sometimes a film gets you by surprise and this one sure caught me off guard. Brink of Life is not very long at only 84 minutes, but it is a typical Bergman Chamber Piece. The setting is a single hospital room that the camera never enters or leaves. This is a technique that is also used in non-Bergman movies such as 12 Angry Men and Dial M for Murder, and more recently in movies such as Locke and All is Lost. Even, to lesser degree, Coherence, which I wrote about years ago. You can often find this technique in stage adaptations as well, because on a stage it is easier (and cheaper) not having too many different locations. Years ago I got Brink of Life in a small four movie box set containing “lesser” Bergman films. Well, if this is lesser then I think I am good for a while. In between watching the film and writing this review (site went kaboom) I bought the Criterion Bergman Box, so discovering more gems like this one should not be a problem. It seems as though lately this film has gone through a name change as well. I see it is often called So Close to Life these days, but I’m going by the title in the original box set for now.

Brink of Life focusses on three women in a maternity ward in an unknown hospital somewhere. I do not recall the camera ever leaving the room. It doesn’t have to. These three women all have different things happening to them and it is the way in which they deliver their stories that makes it all work. They – Eva Dahlbeck, Ingrid Thulin, and Bibi Andersson, all Bergman regulars – deliver such amazing performances that there’s just no need for there to be more. The camera captures the different states these women are in with surgical precision. We see every emotion, every thought, every doubt and every fear that being pregnant might bring. The cast list also includes two more Bergman regulars in side roles, but I will leave those out of this review to be a nice surprise for when you watch the film.

As you can see from the images, the film is in black and white and the room is sterile. There really isn’t much to see besides the three beds and the people in them. This must have been an intentional choice, to make us focus on these women, their faces, the way they move, the way they talk.. So that everything that happens to them feels real. You’re happy when they’re happy, and you’re devastated when they go through rough times. You get to experience it all, packed together in 84 minutes that feel like 9 months. During this small slice of time where the lives of these three women briefly intersect, you are there with them. You are reminded that happiness can turn to sadness in the blink of an eye, but also that (wo)man is strong and that they can overcome the worst moments of fear and despair.

But regardless of how much I adored Brink of Life, I am not sure I would ever recommend it to anyone unless I know they are into this type of film. If intense but slow paced drama without much action or agency is not your cup of tea, have a look at the Adventure page. If it is, and if you’re willing to dig deep into the filmography of one of the greatest directors to have ever lived, then Brink of Life is the film for you!

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