I’m going to have to align with the consensus on this one. It’s a farce that’s simply not terribly funny and doesn’t work dramatically.
Bergman obviously loved farce. He returned to it time and time again, and after his Silence Trilogy, he needed something light. To solve his sense of foreboding from questioning God’s silence for a few years, he pumped out a slight sex comedy in the vein of Federico Fellini without really understanding how Fellini dramatized his own issues with women.
We start at a funeral where a man gives a small eulogy and then five women come out and say the exact same thing about the body on display. “He’s so different, but the same,” the all say (save one, who reverses it). Already, there’s something wrong, and it has to do with the women. The camera is placed far away, so we have a hard time seeing the women. They act differently (one is a maid and immediately begins dusting the space around her when she arrives), but they all end up saying the same thing making their differences surface deep. I suppose there’s supposed to be an emphasis on the actor’s interpretation of the characters, but since we can’t really see who they are since the camera is so far away, that effect is diminished.
When we move on to the action of the movie, from several days before, it becomes obvious what the other major problem is, there’s nothing grounding the experience in any realm of reality for the audience to cling onto. The main character is a critic come to the soon to be dead man’s country estate populated with his assortment of women in order to collect information on the composer for blackmail purposes. The critic is also a biography working on the composer’s biography, but he’s been stymied in getting to know the real artist. Being exposed to the harem of women (ranging from the young maid to the old wife) gives him a bevy of material to expose to the world unless the composer plays a piece that the critic wrote himself.
The problem is that the critic, aside from being a terrible person, is played in a manic style, while the issue of never distinguishing meaningfully between most of the women means that we never get a good idea of what any of them want. It’s all exacerbated by the fact that the movie is a very quick 80 minutes, which keeps the action moving at a nice clip, but never gives us enough time with any character (especially since there are so many) for any kind of connection.
What we get instead are a series of sketches or bits that would feel appropriate as filler in a silent comedy. The sort of gags that eat up three minutes until we get to the real bit of comic mastery, but we never get to those heights. There’s a scene early when the critic first arrives when he knocks a large bust of the composer off a pedestal and then tries to get it back on. The motions indicate that the action is supposed to be funny, but it oddly falls flat.
Not to say that there’s nothing funny in the movie at all. There’s an opening title that says, “Every similarity between this film and the so-called reality has to be a misunderstanding.” That, on its own, is a fine piece of wit, especially once you realize that it’s also patently false. The movie’s all about Bergman as the artist, his women that he loved, and the fact that the critical world wouldn’t leave his personal life alone. There are other moments, but they’re shockingly rare in a movie that’s nonstop farce.
Still, comedy is pretty subjective. The person who wrote the article about the movie in the Criterion Collection’s large book found the movie hilarious while most of the rest of the movie going world that has been exposed to All These Women found it leaden and unfunny. Count me in the latter group.
Netflix Rating: 2/5
Quality Rating: 1/4