Eye For Film >> Movies >> From The Life Of The Marionettes (1980) Film Review
The course of true love never runs smooth, especially if you are inclined to murder.
From The Life Of The Marionettes plucks two characters, Peter and Katarina Egermann, from Ingmar Bergman's earlier work, Scenes From A Marriage, and catapults them into their own disturbing drama.
The film opens violently with a profusion of colour and light in the seedy boudoir of prostitute Ka (Rita Russek). All is not well, however, as Peter Egermann (Robert Atzorn) raves uncontrollably, killing Ka and brutally raping her. Bergman then cuts straight to black-and-white and invites the audience, through a series of compressed, tense scenes from before and after the event, to draw its own conclusion as to what has pushed him over the edge.
Each scene is intercut with a "Brechtian plate", telling us how many hours pre, or post, the disaster we happen to be and inviting us to scrutinise Peter's family and friends for signs of guilt, of which there are plenty.
As with much of Bergman's work, everyone seems to be at least a little to blame. Peter's wife, Katarina (Christine Buchegger), squabbles with him constantly and invites the attention of other men, while his mother (Lola Muthel) delights in dominating him. Even his shrink (Martin Benrath) is a bad egg, more concerned with bedding Katarina than helping Peter with his disturbing fantasy of murdering her.
Bergman's reality is tense and stark, describing it as "hermetically sealed", while recognising the problem. Events appear stagey, as if he is unwilling to let light in, creating a distance between the action and the audience.
The performances are superb, with Atzorn and Buchegger totally convincing as the couple who cannot live together, yet cannot live apart. Walter Schmidinger, as Tim, Katarina's homosexual partner, who holds an unrequited desire for Peter, resists the urge to give his character effete mannerisms, in favour of letting the words tell the tale.
Bergman had something of a breakdown in the years prior to this film, when he was accused - though later exonerated - of tax evasion and forced to spend time in a hospital before fleeing Sweden for Germany. It is clear that he has drawn on his own experience when writing the script, which makes it stronger for his personal touch.
Despite a compulsion to watch, Marionettes feels sluggish at times. In an accompanying extract, Bergman says that he wished he had cut 10 minutes from the film. I think that may be an underestimate. There is, in particular, a description of a dream, which is overindulgent and way too long, and a segment of Peter dictating notes at work, which seems curiously overblown.
Gripes aside, this is certainly a movie that takes risks and which is not afraid of throwing away the narrative to invite viewers to draw their own conclusions about what might drive a man to murder.Reviewed on: 13 Sep 2002
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