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After 15 years of marriage, David and Marianne have grown apart. David has had an affair with a patient of his and Marianne has got herself involved with her former lover Carl-Adam, who's also David's best friend. When she travels to Copenhagen to meet Carl-Adam, David takes the same train as she does, making it look coincidental. Spending time together remembering their past and talking about their future, they come to understand each other again, which leads to a reconciliation. Written by
Leon Wolters <wolters@strw.LeidenUniv.nl>
"A Lesson in Love" was, at least to some extent, an exception in Ingmar Bergman's production which reached its breakthrough one year later with "Smiles of a Summer Night". Then continued with such masterpieces as "The Seventh Seal" and "Wild Strawberries". However, even if "A Lesson in Love" wasn't the film which defined Bergman, it is still very enjoyable, witty and intriguing. In a sense, it meant a follow-up for "Summer with Monika" which gave a kick-start for the sexual liberalization of Scandinavia. In the very beginning, "A Lesson in Love" reveals the essence of its nature, which is veritably ironic: "A comedy for grown-ups. This could just as well be a tragedy. Its protagonist isn't the man nor the women but the unpredictable life itself."
The story centers around a couple who have been married for 15 years. Both have had their affairs but now -- through memories of past and days spent together -- it's time for a possible reconciliation during a train travel where they 'accidentally' come across with each other. Gunnar Björnstrand is fabulous with his sarcastic charm as the man who has lost his faith in enduring, eternal love. In addition, Harriet Andersson plays a fantastic supporting character as the man's charming yet rebellious daughter.
It is no wonder that Bergman chose train as the main milieu for this film which is, for most parts, built on numerous flashbacks, memories and dreams. For isn't train really the milieu which captures the core of our logic -- of our subconsciousness? During the train travel, all that is essential is performed in front of our eyes: the unhappiness of the protagonist's marriage is, paradoxically, due to its harmonic welfare. It lacks on something very substantial, something irrational. It is as if the sterility of bourgeois life had suffocated all genuine emotions which often are the factors that make marriage lively and vivid. That is to say, similar thoughts prevail the mood of this film which were due to characterize all of Bergman's subsequent films.
"A Lesson in Love" is not necessarily your regular comedy of the 1950's but, to my mind, it has several laugh-out-loud moments. In this film, Bergman is at his best striking a few blows at the patriarchal, while depicting marriage as a real purgatory. In fact, Bergman's comedy is so black that, at times, laughter is about to get stuck in one's throat. Such serious matters he makes fun of. The whole ridiculous absurdity of the society, which is built on the unjust institutions of marriage, religion and fatherland, culminates in the dinner party scene where a prayer is rendered, a thigh is flashed and a fight breaks out. Such anarchist criticism bears a striking resemblance to the films of Luis Buñuel who also operated poignant analyses of the western society. By conducting a rather sensual study on sexuality and the contradiction of eroticism and love, "A Lesson in Love" even manages to gather some feminist features, making the film extremely interesting in its historical context.
Although the film includes a few expressionistic images and discusses some existential themes, which have made Bergman so famous, it is still a very unusual work for the director. It is really the thesis of the film which makes it recognizable. For, in the end, the lesson of this session, both gloomy and jolly, isn't left ambiguous: romantic love is impossible unless if structured on the act of deception and severe self-betrayal.
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