Three Strange Loves Review

As Tartan’s Ingmar Bergman collection continues, we are finally beginning to see them turning towards some of his lesser known, and more importantly lesser seen, forties work, both as writer and director. Three Strange Loves (aka Thirst), on which he served as the latter (the screenplay was written by Herbert Grevenius, adapting four of Birgit Tengroth’s short stories), was his final film of the decade, concluding a run of interesting, if not quite classic, pictures. Looking at the film from the perspective of his career as a whole - as many who purchase this disc will do - Three Strange Loves offers nothing new, so to speak. The central theme here is the slow dissolution of a marriage, one familiar from, most obviously, Scenes from a Marriage, but also Summer With Monika. Of course, this latter work is generally considered to be Bergman’s last masterpiece, so how does this particular work, made three years earlier, fare?

In the most general of terms Bergman is on good form. His assuredness behind the camera is especially clear, even if Three Strange Loves isn’t as formally inventive as Persona, say, or Hour of the Wolf. Moreover, he overcomes some of the stiltedness inherent in Tengroth’s dialogue to provide a fascinating female lead (his first in fact) as, for all the technical proficiency, it is in his handling of the plotting where the quality lies.

The couple whose marriage is in question are at the end of a Swiss vacation. First we see them on the morning of the departure in their hotel room, and then later during the first day and night of their two day journey through Germany on their way back to Sweden. Through their occasionally one-sided dialogues we see the cracks gradually appear, cracks which take on a further dimension through two other narratives, each detailing a previous relationship of theirs. The first, the woman’s, is a flashback to a dalliance with a married man, one that survives his wife’s discovery of the affair, but not her getting pregnant. The second takes place concurrently, and details the post-relationship activities of a widow with seeming mental problems whom the husband had a previous fling with.

Understandably it is the central relationship which is key to Three Strange Loves as well as being the richest. Indeed, Bergman gives it a greater degree of attention, drawing out a number of subtle nuances. Most prominently he creates a sense of asymmetry between the couple: when one is being aggressive, the other is passive; during the train journey a child reacts in opposing ways to each; at another time the husband is unable to open a window, yet the wife has no problem whatsoever. It’s an intriguing device and one that never draws attention to itself, but undoubtedly creates an uneasy edge to their interactions as well as making you question why they are together in the first place. Further tension is added by the events of the flashbacks. The details of the wife’s past are revealed in tiny drips, each one acting as a potential forewarning to her current marital situation even if there are few direct connections.

It’s a quality that sadly doesn’t exist, or at least not with an equal force, in the second parallel narrative. Without such a bearing on the main focus it becomes more difficult to pin down, whilst it also detracts attention from the wife (easily the most interesting character on show). It’s nevertheless not without interest - and is also now uncut, its lesbian relation having been previously censored - but also quite prominently displays Three Strange Loves’ origins as a collection of short stories rather than a fully cohesive whole. Of course, given its structure the film never feels like a portmanteau (Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, which similarly adapted a number of related tales, is perhaps a little closer to the mark), but during these moments it is questionable as to whether Three Strange Loves is more than a sum of its parts.

The Disc

Given its age it is perhaps to be expected that Three Strange Loves can’t quite live up to the quality of some of Tartan’s other Bergman releases (The Seventh Seal, say, or Persona). This isn’t to say that is by any means unacceptable though be warned that there are signs of grain and the occasional flicker. The soundtrack, in the original Swedish mono (with optional English subtitles), fares better, remaining clean throughout. Sadly, the special features are limited to filmographies for Bergman and the two leads, plus trailers for Autumn Sonata and Persona.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 09:27:15

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