Ingmar Bergman

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Tom Milne

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 409

The easiest way out of dealing with an embarassing white elephant like Bergman's Now About These Women … is to follow everybody else in sweeping it away under the carpet as a laborious attempt at farce. To do so, however, is to ignore a haunting aftertaste of quiet melancholy which lingers long after the film is gone. It also happens to be enchanting to look at and frequently extremely funny—so much so that it commands a second visit; and this time one penetrates the outer defences to discover why it appears to be limping so heavily. (p. 146)

Bergman takes amiably malicious revenge on his critics…. These humiliations, shot with the full barrage of silent comedy techniques to the jazzy accompaniment of "Yes, We Have No Bananas" on the soundtrack, are often deliriously and unexpectedly funny…. Yet, even though they make up the bulk of the film, these sequences are merely interludes—they are the dashes in a Morse Code message, meaningless without the dots.

If all that one sees is the dashes, then one is in precisely the same boat as Cornelius, who never actually sees Felix, but remains trapped by the grotesque surface of life in the chateau….

What Bergman is saying, of course, is that art (Felix) must be experienced rather than sought for, explained or understood; and under the surface of the film lies a complex disquisition on the nature of the cruel, deceptive, egotistical, secretive and neccessary thing we call art. Felix, in spite of his arrogance and selfishness, commands the divine quality of harmony, but neither he nor his gift can be pinned down for eternity…. This transcience, which Bergman acknowledges as an essential part of genius, is what informs his film with its pervasive melancholy. The only thing, ultimately, that an artist can hope for is to die without having betrayed his art….

"The whole house is crazy," the impresario Jillker advises Cornelius, "You must be adaptable." But Bergman has become so established as the master of spiritual torment or stylish comedy, that his masterly juggling of contradictory moods in this film obviously demands too much in the way of adaptability. No matter: Now About These Women will outlive the insults which have been heaped on it. "Genius," as Jillker aptly remarks, "is making a critic change his mind." (p. 147)

Tom Milne, "Film Reviews: 'Now About These Women'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1965 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 34, No. 3, Summer, 1965, pp. 146-47.

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