Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Ingmar Bergman | För att inte tala om alla dessa kvinnor (All These Women)

the same but different
by Douglas Messerli

Ingmar Bergman and Erland Josephson (screenplay), Ingmar Bergman (director) För att inte tala om alla dessa kvinnor (All These Women) / 1964

Film critics, for the most part, did not take to Ingmar Bergman’s first color film and one of his few outright comedies, All These Women from 1964. The New York Times critic, A. H. Weiler wrote:

            The director, who also collaborated on the script, is labyrinthine
            in his approach to his story and his initial use of color. A
            tongue-in-cheek subtitle states that "any resemblance between this
            film and reality must be a mistake." But it is abundantly clear that
            it is Mr. Bergman's intention to be serious about the occasionally
            elusive points he is making. At the outset, his bizarre tale, unfolded
            in black-and-white footage, reveals the body of a top cellist attended
            not only by his widow but also by the varied but happy harem who
            surrounded him in life.

Roger Ebert described it as Bergman’s worst film. And, I might add, that the first time I saw this film, decades ago, I also did not at all comprehend why he would want to make it. But then I was a prude in those decades, loving Bergman’s black-and-white films of angst and despair only. I do still love most of those films, but I now absolutely enjoyed the satiric slashes against high-minded art mixed with Feydeau-like back-room shenanigans.
     After a brief funeral scene, where each member of celloist, Felix’s seraglio, repeats the phrase “He looks the same, but so different”—flat on his back, one presumes, but not, in death, quite so lively.
     The film actually begins with the arrival at Villa Tremolo of a pompous music critic, Cornelius (Jarl Kulle), come to write the definitive biography of the musician. Fortunately, this self-centered young man—whose hidden goal is the get the master to play a song which he himself has written—never gets the opportunity to meet Felix (and neither we do), as Bergman’s film, in Tom Jones-style keeps taking us back to “two days earlier,” all the while accompanying the zany activities of these oversexed women with the 1920s ditty “Yes, We Have No Bananas.” They’re clearly hungry.
     The foolish Cornelius begins by mistaking the chauffeur, Tristan (Georg Funkquist) for the maestro, and is soon, quite pleasantly overwhelmed the harem of Felix’s lovers, all of whom have been given nicknames such as “Bumblebee” (Bibi Andersson), “Isolde” (Harriet Andersson), “Madame Tussaud” (Karin Kavli), “Traviata” (Gertrude Fridh), “Cecilia,” “Beatrica,” etc. Only Felix’s somewhat suffering real wife, retains her name, Adelaide (Eva Dahlbeck).
      Some of “all these women” try to bed even the unattractive Cornelius, while another enters his chamber to shoot at him, presumably because she thinks Cornelius is having sex, as Felix, out of turn. In short, the very entry into their world by the would-be biographer causes a flurry of sexual chaos.
     Some critics have stated that Bergman’s satiric target was Federico Fellini’s 8 ½ wherein the much-beleaguered film director at the center of this tale is haunted by women present and past. But, since Bergman had also bedded his share of women, some of them even in this film, so I’d suggest it’s also a kind self-satire as well. Actually, it sounds very close to the goings-on in the Maud Cunard—wife of the great shipping tycoon—mansion with writer George Moore and conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, who daily sang songs through the windows, after their nightly affairs, from Wagner and other opera favorites.

    In a sense, it doesn’t matter, we all know that such wild activities did go on with numerous “great figures” in both the musical and cinema worlds…and dance, and literary, and art. You “look the same, but so different.”
      True, this is not Bergman’s greatest film. Even in its satiric gestures, it’s a somewhat moribund and morose version of the comedy he is clearly trying to create. Bergman was, at times, highly comedic, but even the young son of his most brilliant comedic work, Smiles of a Summer Night was a celloist who played several sad songs before running away, delightfully, with his father’s virgin wife.
     Yet, I did laugh, quite openly, this time around. And I wished the dark director of those many tortured souls might have had far more opportunities to explore his comedic self. Yet, in a sense, all of those other angst-ridden figures were clownish exaggerations. You need only visit films such as The Magician, Fanny and Alexander, and strangely even Through a Glass Darkly to perceive this. If Bergman often glowered over his characters, he also forgave them, even laughed at them. This film now seems to me to be almost a glowing tribute to the farces of the French theater and of the early 1920s. I’m happy I revisited it.

Los Angeles, October 30, 2019
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (October 2019).

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