(The School of
Sweden 1983, 108
Adam Edwall - Arnolphe
Lena Nyman - Agnes
Stellan Skarsgård - Horace
Lasse Pöysti - Chrysalde
Björn Gustafson - Alain
Ulla Sjöblom - Georgette
Olle Hilding - Oronte
Oscar Ljung - Enrique
Nils Eklund - The Attorney
In Molière’s classic comedy
Arnolphe, a rich merchant, is under the delusion that he can create
a perfect marriage for himself by creating the perfect wife. He
raises a young orphan. Agnes, from infancy, determined to keep her
ignorant of everything except what he teaches her himself. His
plans, however, are quickly undone by the handsome young Horace who,
despite everything Arnolphe tries, takes Agnes’s education into his
own hands—especially when it comes to love.
Arnolphe (Allan Edwall) is a cynical old misogynist. He mocks the
husbands whose wives cheat on them, and believes that a stupid woman
makes the ideal mate, since she is too dumb to know about deception.
With this in mind, he’s taken Agnes (Lena Nyman) under his wing. When
she was just 5 years old, he took her as his ward and had her placed in
a convent school where her ignorance and innocence would be maintained.
Now she’s of age and he’s ready to marry her. However, he learns that
she’s been visited by Horace (Stellan Skarsgård), the dashing young son
of an old friend of Arnolphe’s. Horace is madly in love with her, and
she would rather marry him instead of Arnolphe. Now Arnolphe has to keep
Agnes under strict control and learn what he can from Horace about his
intentions… without tipping the fact that he’s the one keeping them
The director Alf Sjöberg was in the middle of rehearsals of his
production of Molière’s "Hustruskolan" when he unfortunately died.
Ingmar Bergman — whose first screenplay ("Torment") was directed by
Sjöberg — took up the reins, and also produced this televised version.
So although it’s listed as a Bergman film on IMDb, I reckon much of the
credit actually belongs to Sjöberg. I know Bergman praised his work on
it (calling it "playful, composed, dark, unsentimental") so I imagine he
remained very true to the intentions of the original director.
It is indeed "playful, composed, dark, unsentimental"… a wickedly funny
farce. Arnolphe never learns any lessons, he remains a cad until the
very end. It's a marvelous performance by Edwall, a frequent player in
Bergman's films and plays. He’'s very amusing. Whether it's verbal or
physical comedy, he gives it his all. Nyman is a delight as well,
playing a girl half her age very convincingly. Agnes starts out as a
dimbulb, but love teaches her a few things. She learns to deceive out of
necessity, but it’s not something she relishes doing. She remains as
guileless as she can afford to be. Skarsgård is a lot of fun too, as are
Björn Gustafson and Ulla Sjölbom as Arnolphe's servants, who learn to
bully him as much as he bullies them. It's a marvelous cast, and I can't
think of anything wrong with their performances.
The production is very true to the theater… Arnolphe frequently makes
asides to the audience, there are only three sets and there’s little
attempt to make them look "convincing". But it’s not really a
distraction or detriment. Perhaps I’m losing my prejudice against
"stagey" productions… but I think it’s more that I was just so charmed
by the actors and the comedy that I wasn’t at all concerned with how
"cinematic" it was.
Sjöberg deserves at least some of the credit and Molière probably
deserves most of it, so I'll give my kudos to them as well as Bergman
and the fine group of actors for such a witty and fun experience. A
little overlong, perhaps, but the bulk of it is quite enjoyable (and the
few ribald sight gags never come off as either too juvenile or too
mannered). Rating: Very Good