May 18, 2010

Three Strange Loves

Three Strange Loves is an early film by Ingmar Bergman. It deals with subject matters close to the heart of anyone who has had a relationship, whether that is possible or impossible, something to be desired or to be feared. Bergman's film focuses in upon a couple in a bedsit in Switzerland about to travel back to Sweden. Ruth and Bertil seemed locked in an argument, mixed with occasional bouts of passion, an argument that appears irrational and futile. We know as the first frame is shot that neither of them can win it. As the film progresses we go deeper into their souls, both through their own discussions but also through a flashback involving Ruth which illustrates her past, and a parallel storyline about Viola, Berit's old mistress, which illustrates further dilemmas in the world of relationships. The film is not as sophisticated a piece of work as Bergman's later great films, there is a sense here that the stories spill out of control (the link between Viola's story and Ruth's is forced rather than natural)- but still this is worth watching.

Central to the film is the performance of Eva Henning as Ruth. Henning is both beautiful and ugly. Ruth must be both at times in the drama- as we meet her we must see her as beautiful, as she drapes her figure against the window, but also ugly, violent and vindictive. Henning takes this character on a journey as we continue through the film. We learn that Ruth was a ballet dancer, seduced firstly by an unscrupulous officer Raoul and abandoned when she became pregnant. Also she was seduced at some point by a lesbian fellow ballerina. Ruth's experiences cloud her past but also her future. She screams at one point that she finds no fertility inside her body, she denies her femininity because she has not got the capacity to have another child (a botched abortion has seen to that). She is scarred for life physically but also mentally, trapped, berating Berit for what might have been without really blaming him.

However her behaviour is part of a diptych. On the other side of which is Viola. Viola had a husband- now dead- had a lover Berit- now gone- and seems lost. Whereas Ruth clings to life with a kind of remorseless passion, a wail that speaks of love. Viola wanders through love, knowing not what she wants but what she does not want. Twice others attempt to seduce her- a psychiatrist first, then the same lesbian ballerina who seduced Ruth- and twice, unlike Ruth, she rejects them. However her passivity leads her to the decision that all life and love is worthless. Ruth says these things but her screams come from a love of life, Viola feels them. Birgit Tendroth plays Viola as silent in the midst of woe. She does feel what she has lost but does not seem in the film to have a sense of where she is going, instead she wonders the streets of Stockholm trying to find something. If Ruth is a character with too much history, then Viola is ruled too by her past: the first rails against the present because of it, the second is rejects submissively a present that she sees no point in.

I began this review by saying this film is about love. It is to some extent: it is about love from Bergman's perspective: love here is something violent and vile. It leads to the tie of pregnancy and the fear of abandonment. It leads to quarrels. But it is still worth fighting for. The depressing message of this film might well be that love is pretty bad, but it is the best thing that we have. In later films Bergman would turn to the essence of Christianity: that God is love. In this film he describes two characters both of whom are scarred by love, one of whom gives up, the other struggles on and as ever in his films there is a respect for the struggle even if there is not much hope in it.