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Secrets of Women (1952)


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Secrets of Women (1952) This early Ingmar Bergman film, also known as Waiting Women, examines the experiences of three sisters-n-law, sitting at a table, as they anticipate their husbands’ return. The unfolding flashbacks reveal the distinct forms relationships take. The first story explores the enervating effect of a passionless marriage. As told by Rakel (Anita Björk), we see what happens when she’s visited by a former lover. As hard as she fights it, her resolve gradually melts away in the face of sexual desire. When Rakel reveals her affair to her husband, he disowns her. Then he throws her out. And then he threatens to shoot himself.  A thread of absurdity runs throughout the whole affair.

The second vignette deals with Marta’s (Maj-Britt Nilsson) pregnancy from a playboy painter who is wary of settling down. This installment is rendered in dream-like imagery, with a sequence in a Parisian dance hall being particularly evocative.  Having a child is presented with a rare stream of consciousness, as we get to hear Marta’s thoughts and witness her fears as she enters the hospital, alone.  

The final story features the legendary duo of Eva Dahlbeck and Gunnar Bjornstrand stuck in an elevator.  Presented with this rare chance for intimacy – as things have gotten rather predictable for the married couple – they instead engage in funny and wicked verbal jousting, asking difficult and embarrassing questions about sex & infidelity, and making claims about private investigators and numerous lovers on the side, with Dahlbeck seemingly getting the best of it.  You can see how this paves the way for the brilliant 1955 Smiles of a Summer Night.

The three vignettes show women making compromises, at times at the expense of their own happiness.  The mood, however, remains upbeat. Well-acted and well-written, I found this film a sensitive and insightful look at the lives of its female protagonists.  And of course, Gunnar Fischer’s cinematography is always a plus.

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