Friday, August 12, 2016


On the night of a Swedish Midsummer's Eve festival, Count Carl's servant Jean (Alf Palme) returns to the estate after dropping the Count off at another party. Julie (Anita Bjork), the Count's restless daughter, who has just told off her supposed fiancĂ©, is slumming with the common folk at the party and flirtatiously tries to get Jean to dance with her, despite knowing that he is engaged to Kristin, the cook. As the two parry back and forth for the rest of the night, we get several flashbacks showing aspects of their relationship over the years. Jean, as a young boy, sneaks into the house to see her, then winds up literally in shit when he hides in an outhouse. Years later, Julie asks her fiancĂ© to wade out in a pond and get her a water lily; when he refuses, Jean does it instead. We also get some insight into Julie's upbringing: her mother, Berta, was the Count's mistress and rebelled against traditional gender roles, but eventually went mad and, on a past Midsummer's Eve, burned the house down. Julie promised her mother not to let men enslave her, and tells Jean, "I'd like to see your whole sex awash in blood." Nevertheless, Jean has plans to leave and run a hotel, and Julie steals money from her father so she can run away with him. Still, master and servant mindsets are hard to change, and the best laid plans of mice and men and unstable women…

This beautifully shot and acted film is based on a well-known play by August Strindberg, but you'd never guess it from the inventive, fluid opening-up the material has received from director Alf Sjoberg and cinematographer Goran Strindberg; visually, this movie kept reminding me of CITIZEN KANE which is a high compliment. The action, as in the play, takes place over an evening and a morning, but the constant flashbacks never allow the narrative to bog down and the camera never lets the pace flag. I wouldn't be a bit surprised if Ingmar Bergman was influenced by Sjoberg, and this film in particular. Bjork seems just a tad too old for the part, but she's very good, and Palme (picuted with Bjork) is even better, though his character is a bit perplexing in terms of intention and motivation. The young Max von Sydow has a small role as a mostly mute observer. Highly recommended. [TCM]

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