Secrets of Women (Sweden, 1952):
(Kvinnors Väntan; Waiting Women)

The structure is Mankiewiczian, with at least one Lubitsch "touch" (a risqué cabaret trick reflected on a quartet of lecherous faces and victorious trumpet blast), though this episodic Ingmar Bergman drama serves firstly as personal stylistic workshop, assorted approaches tried on to flesh out a theme. The theme is the multiple compromises of marriage, of women dealing with relationships hardening into emotional entropy -- one way is "religion and grandchildren," according to Aino Taube, oldest of the sisters-in-law waiting for the menfolk to pull up the offshore home. In solidarity, each of the others recounts similar moments of chastening marital crystallization. First up is Anita Björk's, another Summer Interlude where an afternoon encounter with a loutish childhood boyfriend (Jarl Kulle) rouses her out of frigidity only to plunger her into shame, husband Karl-Anne Holmsten scrambling around with a shotgun until stumbling upon the moral, "an unfaithful wife is better than no wife at all." No less childish is moody Birger Malmsten, the man in Maj-Britt Nilsson's story, recalled from the pregnancy ward bed as labor pains kick in; the most insistently "cinematic" of the tales, the wordless romance evoked through tilted angles, impressionistic montage and dueling close-ups of Nilsson's anxious face and looming telephones; a baby is the reward so the Can-Can flirt can morph into a nurturing mother. Sarris' alternative cinematic definition ("two people talking away their share of eternity") molds the final story, Eva Dahlbeck and Gunnar Björnstrand in evening clothes stuck in an elevator. The format is boulevard-skit, almost Restoration comedy, his top-hatted pomposity meeting her iron-jawed knowingness -- the Dahlbeck-Björnstrand timing is never less than redoubtable, yet the cramped spareness is the same to be used by the director for invasive drama, the better to pry open wounds and let the emotional truths bleed out. With Gerd Andersson, and Björn Bjelfvenstam. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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