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THIRST (TORST) (THREE STRANGE LOVES) (director: Ingmar Bergman; screenwriters: from the novel by Birgit Tengroth/Herbert Grevenius; cinematographer: Gunnar Fischer; editor: Oscar Rosander; music: Erik Nordgren; cast: Eva Henning (Rut), Birger Malmsten (Bertil), Birgit Tengroth (Viola), Hasse Ekman (Dr. Rosengren), Mimi Nelson (Valborg), Bengt Eklund (Raoul), Gaby Stenberg (Astrid), Naima Wifstrand (Miss Henriksson); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Helge Hagerman; Criterion Collection; 1949-Sweden-in Swedish with English subtitles)
“Great films are just around the corner for Bergman.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s the last and, possibly, best film in the 1940s for Ingmar Bergman (“Wild Strawberries”/”Port of Call”/ “Persona”), one in which he did not write and comes after the breakup of his second marriage; it’s also the first he tells from a female perspective. The screenplay was written by his mentor, the theater critic Herbert Grevenius, adapting three of Birgit Tengroth’s short stories–she also has a role in the film as the unhappy widow Viola.

It’s set in 1946. A troubled thirtysomething couple, failed neurotic ballerina Rut (Eva Henning) and a stuffy professor Bertil (Birger Malmsten), return by train to Stockholm after a vacation to southern Italy. They are nearly broke, grumpy and stuck in a cramped and hot Basel hotel room, as each wonders if their marriage was such a great idea. She recalls when she was single and had an affair with cocky army officer Raoul, who was married and angrily dumped her when she became pregnant. She blames the cad for the abortion, which made her sterile. On the train ride home, the couple pass through a ravished war-torn Germany with the famished faceless masses at every station stop begging for scraps of food; the self-absorbed couple feels sorry for them and can’t help relating their suffering to their marital problems, as they remain together more out of need and fear of being on their own than out of love.

The subplot, awkwardly executed as it crosses randomly back and forth from the main story, shows Bertil’s ex-lover Viola, filled with self-pity, a troubling physical illness, a mental unbalance (victimized again when treated by the womanizing arrogant shrink, Dr. Rosengren) and loneliness. In another segment, Viola’s wandering the desolate city streets and accidentally meets the former star ballerina classmate of her friend Rut’s, Valborg (Mimi Nelson), who vanished some time ago after a brief fling at stardom. After accepting an invite to her apartment, the heartbroken Viola becomes disheartened that Valborg turned out to be a lesbian putting some crude moves on her and pointing out how they both are losers.

Nothing is absolutely clear, as the three stories don’t mesh too well into one and the dream sequences, though intriguing, only add to the confusion. The main story of the couple seems to be tied to the mythical classical story of Arethusa and Alpheus–a metaphor for the sexes to find a way to bridge their differences and unite.

In Bergman’s seventh feature, it’s already evident that he’s a self-assured filmmaker with a great talent behind the camera, and that great films are just around the corner for Bergman.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”