Big Screen Berkeley: ‘The Devil’s Eye’ and a cat film festival

The Devil’s Eye may remind viewers of Hollywood productions such as Cabin in the Sky and Heaven Can Wait

Few filmgoers will associate the name Ingmar Bergman with a fun night out at the movies. The man responsible for such depressing classics as Persona, The Seventh Seal and The Virgin Spring is rightly considered one of cinema’s prime proponents of poker-faced miserabilism, his films’ characters stricken with any number of physical and mental ailments leading, inevitably, to an appointment with death (though unlike the suggestion made by 1968’s Academy Award-nominated short subject De Düva: The Dove, such appointments generally don’t take place on a badminton court).

Pacific Film Archive’s exhaustive series ‘Bergman 100: Discoveries and Rarities’ has, happily, provided an opportunity to reassess the director’s extensive body of work and highlight the fact that, despite his grim reputation, Bergman’s filmography also features occasional moments of levity.

Though daring by contemporaneous American standards, 1954’s A Lesson in Love and 1955’s Smiles of a Summer Night were in many respects downright conventional romantic comedies, while Djävulens öga (The Devil’s Eye, screening at the PFA at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 15) – though cut from decidedly unconventional cloth — will remind viewers of Hollywood productions such as Cabin in the Sky, Heaven Can Wait, and Here Comes Mr. Jordan.

Introduced by a nameless narrator (Gunnar Björnstrand), the film is prefaced by the proverb “a woman’s chastity is a stye in the Devil’s eye.” This rather sexist bromide sets the tone for the story that follows, which is described during the opening credits as a ‘rondo capricciosi’, a term with which neither myself nor the internet seems to be familiar. Perhaps a reader can provide enlightenment?


The setting: a rather cozy looking Hell, where Satan (Stig Järrel), seated before a roaring fire, is suffering from the aforementioned bacterial infection. He’s detected the presence on Earth of a 20-year-old virgin, a young woman planning to remain pure until she exchanges marriage vows with her fiancée — at which point, claims the Evil One, Heaven will rejoice. Score one for the good guys!

Luckily, Satan has an ace up his sleeve — Don Juan (Jarl Kulle) and his servant Pablo (Sture Lagerwall, sporting an earring), who’ve spent the previous 300 years in Hell working off their punishment for libidinous crimes committed on Earth. Despatched to 20th-century Sweden to deflower vicar’s daughter Britt-Marie (Bergman regular Bibi Andersson), Don will earn a commutation of his sentence – think of it as 300 years off for bad behavior — if he can complete the assignment.

Displaying Sweden’s famously relaxed attitude to things sexual, The Devil’s Eye nonetheless resembles one of those traditional Tinsel Town depictions of supernatural beings sent from above (or below) to modify a mortal being’s behavior. A thoroughly delightful meditation on adultery and pre-marital sex, the film suggests that both sins provide opportunities for personal growth and improvement – not a message the Production Code would allow in 1960!

First Annual New York Cat Film Festival

Akamatsu the cat, featured in the First Annual New York Cat Film Festival

If you missed the 1st New York Cat Festival when it screened at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater in February, it’s coming to Rialto Cinemas Elmwood at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 13. Feline fanciers won’t want to miss the two hours of “moggy magic” collected herein.