Those sassy Scandanavians. This may not be Bergman’s finest film, but all the same there’s a dexterity to the composition and thematic which marks it out. David is a successful gynaecologist who is having an affair with one of his patients. But when he learns that his wife is headed for Copenhagen to hook up with her old flame, Carl-Adam, he realises the error of his ways and takes drastic action.
Although there’s something slightly stagey about the film’s scenes, a reminder of Bergman’s debt to the theatre, there’s also a great deal of play with regard to the timeline and the revelation of information to the audience. At first we have no idea that the attractive woman who David sits next to in the train is actually his wife and the film cleverly manages to sustain the conceit for an entire scene. The writer plays fast and loose with the use of flashback, jumping back twenty years to show the unlikely circumstances under which David and Marianne’s marriage came about. The film, with its set-piece scenes might look a bit dated, but if a contemporary scriptwriter chopped and changed as effectively as this, the critics would be swooning.
In addition, there’s the whole mannered, measured attitude towards the complexities of love and marriage, in such stark contrast to a more straight-laced Anglo-Saxon approach. There’s an understanding that the course of true love does not run smooth which allows Bergman leeway to playfully explore his characters’ attitudes towards fidelity and sex, themes that would recur. It’s a comedy with fangs, which owes more to Shakespeare than the ‘romcom’, to which genre it could probably be described as belonging.