Lawyer Fredrik Egerman and his virginal wife Anne attend a house party thrown by his ex-mistress Desiree Armfeldt, who is currently involved with Count Malcolm, whose wife, Charlotte, makes a play for Egerman, while Anne finds solace in his son, Henrik.
Ingmar Bergman produced his most successful screen comedy despite being weighed down by money troubles, stomach pains and a dwindling romance with Harriet Andersson. He later said that had he not made this picture his only other option would have been suicide. But such despair is scarcely evident in this charming period roundelay, which was filmed in 55 days during a heatwave and represented Bergman's most expensive film to date.
The consistently shifting action bore traces of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, the farces of Molière and Marivaux, Mozart's operas The Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute, and such films as Mauritz Stiller's Erotikon and Jean Renoir's La Règle du Jeu. Yet, Bergman still managed to explore such pet themes as the nature and longevity of love and the problem of identity, while the fluidity of his camerawork suggested a growing maturity and confidence that further manifested itself in the astute manner with which he used each coupling to comment on a particular aspect of love. However, this was as much a satire on class as a romantic comedy. Indeed, its equation of status with lust (whether repressed or luxuriated in) echoed Luis Buñuel's views on the matter, especially where Egerman and Malcolm were concerned - with the latter being more concerned with putting his bourgeois rival in his place than in keeping his mistress. Indeed, only Petra the maid and Frid the groom surrender fully to their passions, although as an actress (and therefore a social outsider) Desiree is also allowed to know what she wants and go after it. Charlotte also seems in tune with her physical needs, but she turns out to find sex as disgusting as the virginal Anne discovers it to be thrilling, albeit with her stepson, whose high romantic ideals and theological inclinations are gleefully surrendered to illicit passion. With its beautiful baroque designs, sublime Gunnar Fischer photography and assured ensemble playing, this is an intricate, lyrical and surprisingly bawdy study of elegant carnality that deserves to rank among Bergman's finest achievements.
Enjoyable society sex comedy from the master of poetic atmosphere.