Saturday, November 21, 2020

A Lesson in Love


Bergman's A Lesson in Love [En lektion i kärlek, 1954] holds the distinction outside of signal entries in the Weimar cinema of being among the first films to treat lesbian desire and, still rarer, suggest transgender longing. The fragility of emotion and the most poignant admissions of such come to the fore in a scene wherein Nix (Harriet Andersson) and her father (Gunnar Björnstrand) shape clay pieces on pottery wheels in a relative's studio (in an echo of the ceramics shop of Summer with Monika), and the daughter wails that she wishes explicitly to change from a woman to a man. A childish aspiration as a means of coping amid buzzing hormones? (In the period, the code-word for this 'acting out' is, of course, "tomboyism.") Nix will disclose later to her father something more acute than jealous soreness over her best friend's revelations of intimacy with a new boy; at her grandfather's birthday celebration she doggedly resists wearing a dress or weaving flowers into her hair. 

The irony of the film's title is that perhaps one can draw no concrete 'lessons' from love. When Björnstrand reconciles (irresolutely) with his ex-wife (Eva Dahlbeck) in a hotel room at the conclusion (both senses of the word), a literal Cupid approaches their door from the corridor and closing it shut, hangs a do-not-disturb sign grimmer than a studio screwball, for it reads: "SILENCE." Which word will serve in the title of a future Bergman masterpiece that we'll examine in the months ahead.


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