Secrets of Women ★★★

The apter title would be Waiting Women! Since that's what the Criterion box-set is listed as, and the various ladies are eagerly anticipating the arrival of the Lobelius brothers. I've begun to feel a sense of numbing déjà vu on Bergman's behalf now—just like Port of Call and Thirst, he's belaboured another present-tense story into a tumultuous flashback, while refusing to provide equal balance between the two.

Now it's strewn across three characters, as opposed to one, which makes the approach even more repetitive. Or so I thought with the initial dual-stories. I felt that way with the first: free-spirited Rakel (Anita Björk) cheating on her taciturn husband Eugen (Karl-Arne Holmsten) with masculine lover, Kaj (Jarl Kulle). I'll admit that situating the ordeal by a remote area, right after an amiable shooting lesson between Eugen and Kaj, does make the tonal switcheroo more atmospheric. Yet it's also filled with dire philosophizing for a hefty segment, until a mutual solution occurs when Rakel and Eugen make amends.

Next up is sprightlier Marta (Maj-Britt Nilsson) who has an affair with Eugen's bohemian painter brother, Martin (Birger Malmsten). After a date gone awry, Marta fortuitously meets Martin in a hotel. (The Parisian impromptu guitar serenade through a cracked door is one of Bergman's most elegant moments,) I did prefer the fraternal dramas of this story to the first—a revelation that Martin will not be attending his father's funeral, spoken by stern older brother Fredrik (Gunnar Björnstrand) who's now leading the family firm. Although its dramatic climax is oddly rushed, since Marta becomes pregnant and consults a gynecologist, all culminating with a reconciliation that's done via chaotic montage.

As the women continue to wait, Karin (Eva Dahlbeck) feels compelled to tell her story. I adored this one, because Bergman thoroughly succeeds at wily screwball. (A cheeky sketch-comedy in a crisis). Karin's been in a 13-year marriage to Friedrich, who exclaims self-praising pomposity about garnering an award at a prestigious event. As they enter an elevator, it becomes stuck, and must resort to an overnight stay of teasing recriminations. (My favourite: Karin laughing at Friedrich when his top hat is flattened.) Discussions occur about affairs they had, yet it's done with a casual air of acceptance; rare on Bergman's behalf, instead of argumentative shouting matches. In this situation, their relationship is uncommonly strengthened. A wonderful vignette.

Perhaps least interesting of all, is the present-situation where Marta's 17 y.o. sister Maj (Gerd Andersson) wants to run away with her fretful boyfriend Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam). Due to his brothers, he's been forced to stay with them during the long vacation. Since this followed the experience-laden adventures of Karin and Friedrich, I wasn't primed for a relationship that was in its starry-eyed infancy. While the motorboat not starting in the ocean is a shrewd touch, including Marta watching from afar, that doesn't make the rest of this irresolute story any more engaging.

Still, even if Bergman's first attempt at a portmanteau has mixed results, his formal craftsmanship has not been waned. The lovers are placed among elegant, shimmery lakes as they share a courtship of content. While the background score is suitably wistful; allowing for poignant moments to supersede another one of his banal, effusive quarrels. I do wish the core relationships for these women—which are just surface-level in contrast to the Lobelius brothers, was more than quanderies of tea at a table. At least their secrets are unveiled, though, and no disdainful judgment is passed because of it. After a long wait, they'll savour time to spend with their returning men, all for the better.