A Lesson in Love is an elderly Bergman film, which has recently been exported by Swensk Filmindustri to fill the current demand for the master's wares. It contains more minutes of humor than minutes of high seriousness, and so it is called a comedy; yet its humor is not unadulterated, and so Bergman calls it a comedy for adults.
Gunnar Bjorstrand, who played the doctor's son in Wild Strawberries, is the film's main character, a gynecologist who has found that domestic life does not hold the attractions it used to. His wife, in her turn, has returned to a sculptor-lover of yesteryear, and things are generally going to hell--in a rather delightful sort of way.
The comic Bergman comes as rather an odd twist to those who have been brought up on Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal. It is hard to conceive of the careful perpetrator of Gothic terror making effective use of slapstick--yet this is exactly what he does in the funniest scenes of the film. At one point (in one of many flashbacks) the young gynecologist interrupts his best friend's wedding with the news that he is going to marry his best friend's betrothed. The action begins with a furniture-throwing brawl between the bride elect and her drunken groom (the gynecologist having been laid out quite early in the festivities), and ends in a glorious reconciliation, with all three sitting down together to the wedding banquet.
Everything, however, is not riotous and gay; there are odd little corners where things are pretty chilly-- little interludes which one comes upon in surprise, where there is not even a pretense to comedy. The gynecologist's daughter, a girl of fifteen, cannot understand why a longtime friend suddenly prefers lipstick and dresses to swimming and sweatshirts. Not an uncommon problem, one supposes,--yet the expression of fear on the girl's face as she tries to fit together her friend's attitude with her parent's impending divorce indicates that she is seeing it in a peculiarly painful way. "Love," the daughter cries at one point, "I never want to be in love."
The great Bergmanian obsession is clearly present in this film, and at certain moments it can be clearly seen-- yet it does not tend to turn the characters into metaphors for a certain segment of the theme. The characters, a raft of them, emerge fresh and unique. There is a happy grandfather, a sort of Nordic Big Daddy without any problems except his wife's insistence upon long underwear; a mad and pudgy sculptor whose libido provides the stuff for the funniest parts of the film; the wife herself, whose sham strength acts as a foil for her husband's sham weakness.
For someone who likes Bergman at his most serious, A Lesson in Love may provide slightly pallid fare. It is certainly not as demanding as some of his later pieces--perhaps not as exciting. Bergman's great comic talent, however, combined with uniformly fine acting, makes A Lesson in Love particularly charming entertainment.