FROM THE LIFE OF THE MARIONETTES (Aus dem Leben der Marionetten)

(director/writer: Ingmar Bergman; cinematographer: Sven Nykvist; editor: Petra v. Oelffen; music: Rolf Wilhelm; cast: Robert Atzorn (Peter Egermann), Heinz Bennent (Arthur Brenner), Martin Benrath (Mogens Jensen), Toni Berger (The Guard), Christine Buchegger (Katarina Egerman), Walter Schmidinger (Tim), Gaby Dohm (Secretary), Rita Russek (Ka); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Horst Wendlandt/Konrad Wendlandt/Ingmar Bergman; Home Vision Entertainment; 1980-West Germany/Sweden-dubbed in English)

“It explores Bergman’s usual concerns over marriage, sex and despair, but is not up to the director’s better works.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Made for German television at a time Ingmar Bergman (“Winter Light”/Port of Call”/”Persona”) fled there for tax purposes. It’s an experimental film, looking much like a documentary. It has us trying to discover why a successful businessman would so brutally kill a prostitute. It explores Bergman’s usual concerns over marriage, sex and despair, but is not up to the director’s better works. One has the feeling that we have taken this road with Bergman before and the disappointment is that there’s nothing new to report. As one can tell from the title, Bergman views the antihero killer as a puppet maneuvered by society pulling the strings of his repressions and desires until he’s no longer able to be in control of his life.

The film opens in color, in a room color-schemed in blood red, as bourgeois wealthy businessman Peter Egerman (Robert Atzorn) murders in the back room of a seedy nightclub a young prostitute (Rita Russek), called Ka, which is short for his unfaithful fashion designer wife’s name of Katarina (Christine Buchegger). The film goes into black and white for the remainder of the film, and the psychiatrist of questionable ethics who is treating Peter, Professor Mogens Jensen (Martin Benrath), appears before the police investigation board as they conduct an inquiry into the murder.

We view prior to the murder a therapy session with Peter, which is followed by Peter’s wife coming to the shrink’s office and turning down his proposal to go out of town with him. Peter hides in another room and overhears this proposition. We learn from the shrink’s report of Peter’s sexual inadequacy and latent homosexuality, his rage toward his wife, his severe depression, and his inability to deal with his domineering famous actress mother, Cordelia Egermann (Lola Müthel), who feels like a martyr because she gave up a promising career to stay home and raise the children.

It’s a personal film that covers the director’s own alienation, recurring difficulties from childhood and continual bouts with depression. It has its hypnotic moments and momentous dream sequences shot in a shocking glint of whiteness (credit master cinematographer Sven Nykvist with that great touch), but there’s not enough butter on the bread to take away its doughy taste and make this case study seem all that involving over other case study pics.

Walter Schmidinger plays the middle-aged Tim, Katarina’s manipulative gay business partner, who has a man size crush on Peter and delivers the film’s best depressing monologue on his failure to find love. He’s one of the few gay characters to appear in a Bergman film.