Waiting Women Review
With the Swedish film industry in a bit of a slump in 1951, Ingmar Bergman took to making a series of commercials for a soap called 'Bris' to save himself from financial ruin. It was the same necessity to make money that drove Bergman to make more commercial films and comedies, but it also afforded the director the opportunity to explore other filmmaking styles and moods. Made up of three stories, one of them Bergman's first attempt at comedy, Waiting Women was one of those films created to be commercially appealing and make money for himself and for the film studio.
A group of women, all sisters-in-law married to men from the Lobelius family, are waiting on their small offshore home for the regular return of their husbands from work. Although they still love their husbands, they bemoan the lack of real communication and intimacy that now exists between them. Annette finds no warmth in the basic social interaction she has in her marriage to Paul – a hello, a goodbye and social functions with the neighbours – she feels they are nothing more than “a couple of bowing puppets”. The other women have similar stories to tell of the moment when they came to a realisation of the true nature of their relationship with their husbands.
Rakel (Anita Björk) tells of how, dissatisfied with her sexual relationship with her husband Eugen (Karl-Arne Holmsten) and longing for excitement and passion in her life, she submitted to the seductive charm of her childhood boyfriend Kaj (Jarl Kulle) once again, but was unable to handle the moral implications of her actions. When her husband finds out, they have to find a new means of accommodation with each other. Although not a very original or developed scenario, this is very much like the kind of situation that Bergman would delve into in much deeper psychological detail in the films like Scenes From A Marriage (1974).
For Marta (Maj-Britt Nilsson), it was while she was heavily pregnant that she came upon the defining moment in her relationship with Martin (Birger Malmsten). While waiting alone at the hospital and about to go into labour, she recalls the period when she and Martin were in Paris before her marriage, her scandalous behaviour in a French Can-Can club and how, following the death of his father, she doesn’t tell him about her pregnancy. The depiction of their romance and the Parisian episodes seem much more conventional and untypical of Bergman material, but through a series of drug-induced dream sequences and overlapping impressions, Marta’s decisions on the direction of her life are a little more complicated - less rational and more emotional or impressionistic, and not so far removed from the powerful dream sequences to come in Wild Strawberries (1957).
For Karin and Fredrik, trapped in an elevator one night, the situation is certainly more contrived and familiar, but Bergman makes it much more interesting than it could have otherwise been with some nice visual tricks involving mirrors and flickering lights and simply through the wonderful interplay from the fine double-act of Eva Dahlbeck and Gunnar Björnstrand. The scene is a fine little précis of the material and technique they would revisit in Bergman’s A Lesson In Love two years later, although Dahlbeck’s Karin breaking down Fredrik’s self-satisfied composure over his affairs with other women works much better in this shorter format.
Although the film is broken down in this way into a series of vignettes, like the earlier Three Strange Loves, the director tries to keep up the continuity through slight overlaps in the family relationships and at the same time keeps a variety to the common experiences of each of the women. While all this is going on - or has gone on since reflections are all flashbacks on an essential aspect of their relationships - the youngest girl Maj (Gerd Andersson) is creating her own defining moment, planning to run off with the youngest Lobelius, Henrik (Björn Bjelvenstam), keeping the theme current, running in between each of the stories. It’s this fine detail in the structure and the strength of the narration – Bergman finding inventive and varied ways to describe the failure of human beings and married couples to communicate meaningfully with each other – that make this one of Bergman’s more interesting early films.
Tartan’s release of Waiting Women, like their other Bergman Collection releases is Region 0. It’s interesting to see what was once cut and rated an ‘X’ in 1952, is now a 12 certificate with the cut scenes restored. Although the material is certainly more ‘adult’ in its topics for a 1952 film, covering infidelity, immoral behaviour, pregnancy outside of marriage and attempted suicide (topics Bergman had already broached as early as 1948 in Port of Call), most of these cuts here (over 10 minutes), I presume, involved the topless dancers in the Parisian Can-Can scenes.
Waiting Women comes with a fine, crisp, detailed black and white transfer at the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The black and white tones are strong with solid blacks and a fineness of detail on skin textures. There is very little flicker and very little print damage – certainly none that detracts in any way from the film, although small reel change marks can be seen and one or two scenes are a little grainer than others.
The mono audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and is generally clear. There is a low level of background hiss throughout, but the soundtrack is nonetheless audible and doesn’t present any other problems with noise or distortion.
Optional English subtitles are provided in white font, and are clear and easily readable.
Other than a couple of biographies, there are no extra features relevant to the film on the disc. The Bergman memoirs on earlier titles in the Tartan Bergman Collection series, which were fascinating glimpses into the creation of these early films, are sadly missed. The Philip Strick Film Notes however ought to be included in a 4-page booklet, although this wasn't seen with the review copy. On the disc itself are an Autumn Sonata Trailer (2:22), presented in 1.66:1 letterbox, and a Persona Trailer (2:30), presented in 1.85:1 letterbox with a voice-over of critics notices. Both trailers have been extensively trailed on other Bergman releases. The Ingmar Bergman Filmography extensively covers all his work, including his TV, production, writing and acting work. Filmographies are also included for Maj-Britt Nilsson and Gunnar Björnstrand.
An intriguing series of little vignettes made for purely commercial reasons, Waiting Women flirts with different filmmaking approaches and themes but never quite has a consistent enough tone, purpose or even sufficient originality. While it is never on the scale of great Bergman, there are nonetheless signs of a director stretching himself and plenty of tantalising hints of what is to come from Bergman in the themes and methods employed here. The quality of the transfer on the Tartan DVD is superb, making this rarely seen film a fabulous addition to their other releases of the early Bergman back catalogue.