Starring-Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson
Scott’s Review #404
Reviewed May 11, 2016
The Girls is a 1968 political leaning, surreal, dream-like, feminist Swedish film. These may seem like too many adjectives to describe a film, but they all happen to be warranted and work to categorize it, which is tough- it is a complex film.
The film left me deep in thought about what I had just viewed- that is a positive for me. Directed by a female, Mai Zetterling, the film clearly is told from a female perspective and is quite difficult to follow, though the message portrayed is a thought compelling, and powerful one-women repressed- whether in reality or fantasy-by men.
In my attempt to describe The Girls accurately, it appears to contain the boys versus girls component throughout- told by the girls. The plot centers around three women: Liz (Bibi Andersson), Marianne (Harriet Andersson), and Gunilla (Gunnel Lindblom).
The women are hired to star in a touring production of Lysistrata and each faces conflict and concern over leaving their respective families, but for differing reasons. Liz’s husband, who is having an affair, cannot get rid of her soon enough. Marianne has recently dumped her married boyfriend. Gunilla has four children and suffers from guilt. All of the women are very friendly with each other.
All three principal actresses are familiar to eagle-eyed Ingmar Bergman fans as each of them has appeared in numerous films of his-in very different types of roles. Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal feature these actresses.
The women go on tour and have various surreal experiences based on the play in which they are a star. The film, made in black and white, has very overexposed cinematography. The blacks and the whites are very sharp in look and this is no doubt purposely done.
On the surface, it would appear that the women hate men and yearn to be free of them. Is that the point of the film? It seems to go in other directions as well. Do they hate their lives and feel confined with men and free without them, when they are touring their play? How do they feel about their children? Do they miss them on tour, love them, resent them, or perhaps a bit of each? They yearn to be free of restraint.
We are treated to numerous scenes that seem to be a dreamlike state or a fantasy of one of the women. One runs through the forest and comes upon a grizzled, dirty child on the ground. Is it hers? She then sees her husband sitting in a living room chair in the middle of the forest. The symbolism resonating through The Girls is countless. We also see the women fantasize about a handsome, young man. Are they tired of the doldrums- looks and otherwise- that their husbands have caused them?
Many political scenes of protest occur throughout the film. In one, the women march in unison- Nazi-style and chant. In another, the women lead what appears to be a charge of women- suffragette style, until the women start attacking each other and punch and kick each other in the streets. These scenes and countless others are tough to analyze, but perhaps this is the point? I decided to simply escape into the film and not try to figure out what everything meant.
Fantastic to see is the exterior scenes shot in Stockholm, Sweden, which reminds us what a liberal, democratic city it is. Yet the women are clearly repressed. Made in 1968, during the sexual revolution, the timing of the film is perfect.
The Girls left me pondering the story and the viewpoint and I will need further viewings for the film to more successfully sink in and for me to get it- if I ever do, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. In fact, the film is the kind of film that requires further viewings to understand. I look forward to watching this film again and that is high praise for it.