By 1995, Ingmar Bergman was in semi-retirement, writing the occasional screenplay and directing the odd TV play. The Last Gasp was one such play, and although it’s a very minor work it’s not without some interest.
The film, rarely seen, is a one-act play, depicting a fictional meeting between two real-life Swedish film professionals: former director George af Klercker (Björn Granath), and studio CEO Charles Magnusson (Ingvar Kjellson). Set in Magnusson’s plush office at the Swedish Film Industry, it shows af Klercker visiting unannounced where he proceeds to reminisce about past film productions and share memories about their former working relationship. It’s clear that Klercker’s glories are long behind him and he’s become a bitter drunk. Magnusson, the successful money man, grudgingly endures this intrusion, even as af Klercker gets increasingly drunk and bitter. Eventually we discover that af Klercker is there to beg for one last chance to make a film.
Before the play proper beings, we are shown a ten minute documentary about the early history of Swedish film. This straightforward sequence introduces the two real-life characters and we learn that af Klercker was a prolific talent, making twenty six features in only three years, many of them profitable. But his glory was short-lived as his independent film company was bought out by Magnusson in 1918.
The film is essentially a long monologue by the increasingly inebriated af Klerker, and feels very stagey. It takes place entirely in one room. The direction is nothing special. Although Bergman was credited as ‘director’, I note that another man, Mans Reutersward, is credited as ‘Director for TV’; I wonder if Bergman was much involved in the production. However, Bergman’s hand can be seen much more strongly in the script as we gradually get a rounded impression of the desperate af Klerker, that is entirely at odds with the lightweight good-time music that sets the scene.
The acting is okay, although Kjellson’s dialogue-free role consists mostly of unsettled, discomforted reaction shots. It’s a one-man show, and Granath’s performance is competent if never entirely convincing. Although filmed in monochrome to evoke the period, The Last Gasp has very little style and feels constrained by its setting.
Bergman always had an affection for this period of Swedish film making. Director Victor Sjöström also worked for Magnusson and Bergman cited The Phantom Carriage as a major influence. Sjöström would later be the subject of Bergman’s documentary The Image Makers (2000).
However The Last Gasp is merely a curio for Bergman completists, worth watching once, but ultimately throwaway.