A young man gets off a boat in a harbor. Moments later, he witnesses a young woman jump off the harbor into the water in obvious despair. They don’t meet, but he just watches as someone closer jumps into the water and fishes her out, leaving the young woman crying on the pavement.
Thus starts Port of Call, a movie that touches on a few familiar themes that Bergman would visit in his later movies and, for a time, gets very closer to be a special gem in his early filmography. Missteps in the film’s second half, though, hamper the film and keep it from being quite good.
The two young people meet at a night club some time later and immediately hit it off, but we can see that the woman, Berit, is beset by some emotional problems while the young man, Gosta, seems, perhaps, a little too aloof for something like a serious relationship. However, they enjoy each other’s company, work through some early misunderstandings and a confrontation with a handsy foreman Berit works under that leaves Gosta bloody, and eventually decide to spend a weekend alone together. They are not married, so they pretend the relationship in order to get a room, but Berit is confronted by a figure from her past.
Berit lived in a very unhappy home growing up. Her parents hated each other, but they remained together (whenever her father wasn’t at sea as a ship’s first mate) in order to try and give Berit a stable home. That didn’t really work and Berit ended up running away to live with a boy she hardly knew. Despite the match being remarkably happy, Berit was still underage, found, and sent to a reform house where she met Gertrude, a fellow delinquent. The two developed a common bond, if not a particular friendship, over their shared experience, and Gertrude’s presence at the hotel where she works and the couple are staying, brings everything back. Berit decides to unload herself to Gosta whom she hopes will be understanding.
Gosta can’t quite reconcile his feelings for Berit with her past, asking her how many men she had been with. Her looseness, of a certain variety, bothers him. The scene of the reveal is a bit awkward. On the one hand, there’s a wonderful element of later Bergman as the camera focuses squarely on Berit with Gorsta in the background taking in the information. On the other hand, the film goes into a series of flashbacks that don’t work that well, especially the last one that details the scene where Berit lived with another boy and his parents as the parents kicked her out. The reasons for the action we see are unclear, short, and involve three characters we’ve never seen before. The overall confessional would have been more effective with just Berit talking (a technique Bergman would later use much more frequently).
The scene that touches rather directly on later thematic chords from Bergman involves Gosta telling his female troubles to fellow dockworkers. One of them ends up telling him that no one else cares about the problems and only Gorsta and Birta do. This presages the silent God of Bergman’s middle period, and the laser focus on relationships and those directly involved in his later period. However, the movie gets bogged down with competing ideas that get pushed on in front of another. It’s not a complete failure, but it’s enough of a distraction to take what had been a very promising film into something far more ordinary. Even Gertrude’s death after a botched abortion feels a bit more like a distraction instead of something that feeds the central narrative.
Still, the movie shows Bergman’s early promise. Performances are universally good, and the visual keys he would later use are strong as he alternates between real locations in Stockholm (similar to how he would use Faro later) to more stylized sets (evoking his later use of sets for certain films like All These Women). It’s almost good, but not quite.
Netflix Rating: 3/5
Quality Rating: 2.5/4