After a successful career as an actress, in Europe and US, Mai Zetterling turned to a directing career and with the help of her second husband David Hughes, a screenwriter, she helmed in 1964 Alskande Par (Loving couples) that was the break through for her acclaimed work as a director.
Adele, Agda and Angela are three young women, that once admitted in an hospital, are waiting to give birth to their children.
While Adele is immediately informed that she is going to have an abortion, the other two wait with different attitude for their delivery moment.
As the time goes by, the three women start to remember the events that led them there; and their lives from childhood to maturity; the pain and the anguish will bring them to a state of confusion in which they cannot discern the present from the past.
The simple minded Agda, that well knows how to use her beauty to seduce men; the bitter Adele who set up with an husband that she doesn’t love and that can’t satisfy her needs; the beautiful Angela undecided between the love for a man or for a woman; three different female portraits to expose the condition of the woman at the beginning of the twentieth century in Sweden, and not only.
A forerunner of the Feminist movement, the film was criticized for his frank approach to delicate matters like sexual relationships before and outside the marriage, and between persons of the same sex.
Zetterling depicts a society in which the position of the woman is relegated to the role of a pleasure toy or to be a beautiful piece of furniture.
The males characters are self absorbed, boring and insensitive, they define woman as thirty seconds of heaven for thirty years of hell. They are concentrating only on politics, work and their own satisfaction. A description that could be applied to the whole mid part of the twentieth century in most countries of the world, until the sixties. Will these women be able to find a way to free themselves from the chains of their daily lives?
Some will succeed, like Angela that will finally understand that a fitting marriage is only a burden a not more; in a beautiful wedding scene full of irony and sarcasm, in which all the stereotypes of happiness and mutual love are deconstructed by the declamations of a witness rehearsing with the newlyweds the ceremony soon to follow.
Angela will run away from it and from the farce, she will be asked what she’s doing and finally she will answer “I’m enjoying my freedom”.
The liberation will be completed with the birth of her child, the only thing that will matter from now on. Based on Agnes von Krusenstjerna’s novel and lensed in black and white by master cinematographer Sven Nykvist, the movie is beautifully shot; and while some noted Bergman’s influence on Zetterling, I was more than impressed by the use of long tracking shots, following the events and by the search of the perfect angle for the most effective take. The resulting look is polished and glam, in counter opposition to the decaying morals of the society exposed and its prejudices. A master cinematic technique is displayed all trough the film, and apart the obvious contribution of Nykvist, the experience of Zetterling as an actress that worked with dozens of talented directors with different styles, was fundamental to achieve such perfect synthesis between an European approach and Hollywood “mis en scene”. Direction of the actors is impressive and the whole cast give an “ensamble” performance with unforgettable authority.
Liz, Marianne and Gunilla: three actresses going to stage Aristofanes' Lysitrata, in which all the women of Athens refuse to serve and please their men until they’ll stop an ongoing forever war.
The trio has to leave, touring the country with the play. While acting the classic comedy, reality and contemporaneity will mix with the events of the play that sounds and looks much more modern than everybody thought.
Zetterling directs the film with a completely different style than her previous works. While always looking for the proper camera angle, the narrative fragmented between the play and reality, is more reminiscent of some free cinema experiments. This is a great piece of work, both in terms of style and content, and while most of the critics continued to underline Bergman’s influence, this is only because of the casting of some Bergman’s favourite actresses like Bibi Andersson.
Lines from the play are heard or pronounced during their daily life and their discussions with their men. Again, the men are shown at their very worst: ugly, insensitive and most of the times ridiculous. It’s not hard to understand why this movie has always been referred to as Feminists’ manifesto; praised by female intellectuals in the like of Simone de Beauvoir. The achievement of the construction of something new and revolutionary, using an almost 2500 years old play, is completely successful; as the movie is both reflective and funny at times with a surrealistic touch. Narrative devices that transcend reality are used as sort of “deus ex machina” and they are as effective as the provocations of the female trio.
From the times of Aristofanes, women’s condition didn’t change so much, as well as the one of men, always absorbed in their search for war, if not physical being economical: a scene in which Liz’s husband is at work at the stock exchange market is a beautiful metaphor for a battle on the field.
It is the most surprising that the film aged so well, and this is due to Zetterling’s free of burdens approach, her fearless style that is constantly challenging the technical language of the media.
Mai Zetterling continued her directing career until the mid eighties with successful and acclaimed films like Scrubbers. She went back in front of the camera for an highly praised role in Nicholas Roeg’s The witches.
Alskande Par and Flickorna were previously available in different editions in Sweden by SadrewMetronome and in the US from the now defunct New Yorker video. The DVDs in questions are the brand new releases from Doriane Films in France. They had access to the same masters of the original Swedish ones. The movies look nice in their 1.66:1 OAR non anamorphic; but didn’t get any extensive restoration from SandrewMetronome that opted for an heavy use of DVNR, making some scenes a little too waxy and soft.
I strongly suggest these editions for all those are French friendly (French subs only are available), and even because in Alskande Par DVD is included Zetterling’s awarded short The war Game.
I encourage Doriane to continue the collection with Zetterling’s Nattlek (Night Games), it would be a great chance to go back again to her cinema.
Mai Zetterling was a figure of an immense talent that she was able to display in a decades spanning career. Her movies are an important piece of Swedish Cinema History and those who’ll approach them for the first time, will be surprised by their freshness and actuality. Even if female condition has improved nowadays, still women have a long journey to reach the position and the importance, in some societies of the world, they would deserve. Zetterling’s movies are the demonstration that a gorgeous body contains even a gorgeous mind most of the times. She must be of example to all female artists, with her integrity and her open minded method, unchained from all kind of stereotypes and formalities.
Film mass is ended you may go in peace