All These Women opens in a setting entirely in keeping with Bergman’s depressing sensibilities – a funeral. Renowned cellist Felix, resplendent in his coffin in a grand mausoleum, has his eulogy read by pretentious music critic and amateur composer Cornelius. His widow comes to pay her respects. Then his other widow arrives to mourn her loss. And another and yet more. Felix, it seems, was a popular chap.
Flashback to three days previously and Cornelius is seeking to write the biography of virtuoso Felix in his opulent mansion. The thing is, Cornelius considers himself a bit of a composer too, and he plans to try to use his wiles to blackmail the apparently mute musician into performing Cornelius’ magnus opus at a forthcoming concert. On arrival Cornelius receives a warm welcome at the mansion, but unfortunately mistakes the butler for his host.
He soon realises that his attempts to meet the maestro are thwarted on every occasion, what with all the rehearsing he has to do. More time consuming, however, is the job of keeping all the women satisfied. They’re an eclectic and demanding bunch to be sure, whether demanding cello lessons or arranging the rota for their night with the master. But maybe they can give Cornelius the information he needs to write his biography and realise his cunning plans.
"Any resemblance between this film and the real world has to be a misunderstanding," we are reliably informed. All These Women is about as far from a typical Bergman film as it is possible to get, but it’s a refreshing change, employing farce, situation comedy, wordplay and, heaven forbid, even slapstick. The narrative, such as it is, is unconventional, not entirely coherent and simply drifts from one scene to the next, mainly comprising a series of set pieces. The characters are one-dimensional, but that’s appropriate for this piece and they do their very best to engage the audience.
Cornelius in particular has a penchant for swift asides to camera, so we can grasp the deviousness of his fiendish plans. There is also a strong vein of surrealism that runs through the film – Cornelius triumphant in his seduction of one of the wives until he gets shot at in what he perceives to be a fit of jealousy, a fireworks display inside the house and an impromptu disguise as a rubber swan as he eavesdrops on the women whilst swimming in the lake. The big joke of course, is that we never really see the subject of the film, Felix, although his music pervades the house. Air on a G String seems to be his particular favourite. Light and trite, this film’s a surprising delight.