Bibi Andersson, comfortably married to middle-class doctor Max Von Sydow, enters an intense affair with furry American archeologist Elliott Gould. Though he swings from tender lover to slap-happy boor, Gould provides her with an unpredictability (and neediness) alien to her existence as wife and mother -- stretching over a couple of years, the liaison wrenches all three, although the narrative gets its anchor from the passions and agonies tearing Andersson's hausfrau limb from emotional limb. This Ingmar Bergman film, his first in English, was tarred and feathered upon release, and much of the hostility seems gender-based (hardcore Bergmaniacs John Simon and Stanley Kauffmann loathed it, yet Molly Haskell has written of it perceptively and sensitively). Seen today, it is still one of the director's least appreciated works -- following the despairing experimentation of The Rite and The Passion of Anna, it inaugurates an erratic but bracing shift toward a battered humanism. The director's awkwardness here is inseparable from the picture's freer structure, his mise-en-scčne less exacting and, as a result, less entrapping of his heroine: unlike the vessels of female torment in Cries and Whispers and Face to Face, Andersson here has to shoulder less of the weight of Bergman's lenses. More autonomous since less sure of her feelings, she's able to navigate between the stability of home and the almost maniacal moodiness of a lover's pad (and risk losing both) without degrading or compromising her feelings. Bergman's work is about enlarging life by undermining its certainties, and Andersson's journey, whether sleeping with Von Sydow or contemplating unearthed statuary with Gould (shades of Roberto Rossellini's Viaggio in Italia), forms an extraordinary spiritual growth. Even if by the end she is trying to find her footing amidst emotional rubble, the pulverization remains part of an expansion of her own self-definition as a woman. Cinematography by Sven Nykvist. With Sheila Reid.
--- Fernando F. Croce