Three women meet and connect in their hospital beds, and all three of them are in different stages of pregnancy. One got sick and lost her child, one is about to give birth and the youngest of them has had a miscarriage before and doesn't really want the child she is now carrying.
Ingmar Bergman wasn't always directing highly philosophical and deep (and sometimes pretentious) films, he had a number of films that were extremely down to earth and just portrayed something real. I think "Smultronstället" is one movie that features that, but probably ends up somewhere in the middle of down to earth and philosophical. "Nära livet", however, is as pure and real as they come. It doesn't say much more than what is to be seen and I think that's admirable as well.
In "Nära livet" we get to know three women in a hospital. They're all very different from each other, and they are also in different stages of their pregnancy (well, one lost her baby). This is what makes the movie interesting: three different women with very different backgrounds, in three different stages of pregnancy. Being a movie from the 50's, this is definitely unusually honest in it's portrayal. It's straight-forward with issues we can still see among pregnancies today, and manages to be emotionally thoughtful and realistic about it. I think it manages to feel like it could've been a documentary without actually being one, which is an odd feeling in itself.
With Eva Dahlbeck, Ingrid Thulin, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson and Max von Sydow in the roles, it's easy to see why the movie works so well. This is seriously about as good of a cast as you get in a Swedish film. Between these characters I think we can find every mood a person can go through during a pregnancy, maybe making "Nära livet" the best movie ever produced on the subject.
What I did like the most about the film is that while it is brutally realistic, it's not a downer. It has an up-beat tone even in its most depressing moments and clearly shows that it's a film about life and not about death. Also, of course, considering some of the circumstances the ending is a very happy one too. We all know Bergman can make some really depressing cinema if he wants to, and I'm glad this film didn't have to be a victim of that. We might have to thank the writer, Ulla Isaksson, for that.
"Nära livet" is a great movie on the subject of pregnancy, maybe even the best (at least my favorite). It's realistic, sometimes depressing but overall it's a joyful experience. The acting carries this movie such a long way, and it's not a surprise when you look at the cast. This is just further proof that Ingmar Bergman was a master even when he put away all the pretentiousness and deeper meanings and just made a realistic portrait of something.