Cornelius (Jarl Kulle) is one of the most respected music critics around, or is in his own opinion at any rate, so when the chance to have one of his own compositions performed by the great cellist Felix arose, he jumped at the chance. Alas, the musician has now expired, and at the funeral the women he lived with all pay their respects, limited as they are, as Cornelius wishes to read from his biography which he has newly completed and feels will be the ideal send-off for the giant in his field. But how did we get to this stage? To find out that we must delve into the past, three days before in fact, to learn what befell the critic when he visited Felix at his mansion house – and it wasn’t pretty.
By the time writer and director Ingmar Bergman was preparing to make All These Women (or För att inte tala om alla dessa kvinnor) he was one of the most respected filmmakers in the world, with the reaction well nigh unanimous that he was a genius, and one of the most serious artists in the medium. And then he burped out this, a giddy farce that according to him was made with commercial success in mind, and in addition proof he could play as lighthearted as he could sincere and with utmost gravitas. The result was probably his most reviled work, one which not even his diehard fans could find much to defend about it, and bedevilled with the worst thing you can say about a comedy: it simply wasn’t funny.
There was certainly a lot happening in its hour and twenty minutes, but however frenetic, even wild, it became the impression of a deadly serious man trying and failing to let his hair down was never far away, and the fact that he appeared to be making fun of all those who loved his work otherwise was not especially endearing. One thing everyone could agree on was maybe Bergman should have used colour more often, as this was his first effort not in black and white and his eye for an attractively hued image was evident. However, if the best you can offer about a movie is that it makes good use of colour photography, you can tell there was precious little else to claim about its other qualities, visual or otherwise.
As the embodiment of critics everywhere, Cornelius is made out to be a fool, lauding the most respectable when it makes him look just as good as those he is praising, but Felix is not immune to Bergman’s spoofery either as his supposed perfection in his endeavours are shown to be more than in the eye of the beholder. He lives with a collection of women, including Bibi Andersson who was about to appear in the director’s next masterpiece, Persona, who are every one flighty and unpredictable, leading Cornelius a merry dance, though he does manage to bed one which would be a victory of sorts except in the next scene he is being shot at by one of the others. That sex scene had been replaced at censors’ request with a symbolic one, incidentally.
Only it wasn’t really by censors’ demands, it was another of the gags that fell flat as a pancake time and again. Bergman had a point to make about the worth of thinking for yourself when it came to art, even popular culture, fair enough but he was protesting too much if he thought he didn’t deserve all the acclaim, it came across like false modesty of the most lunatic variety what with the inclusion of Benny Hill-style speeded up running about, crossdressing and a gratuitous use of fireworks to present the wacky side of Cornelius' stay with the Maestro. For such a short film, it seemed far longer, and as a critique of critiques it was blunt and silly, an interesting combination but not one which could particularly captivate. Exaggerated acting prevailed, a frivolous overuse of Yes We Have No Bananas grated within seconds, and it ironically served to prove the worth of critics when they could warn the unwary away from disasters like All These Women. But if you wanted to fail, fail big.
Undoubtedly one of the greatest artists of cinema, Ingmar Bergman was often accused of being too depressing as his subjects covered the existence (or otherwise) of God and deep-seated marital problems (he himself was married five times), but he always approached them with a sympathetic eye. Among his most memorable films were Summer with Monika, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal (with its unforgettable chess game with Death), Wild Strawberries, The Virgin Spring (the inspiration for Last House on the Left), Through a Glass Darkly, The Silence, Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage and Fanny and Alexander. He also made international stars of Max von Sydow, Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson.