Loving Couples [aka Alskande Par] is a sensitive, somewhat erotic and mostly serious Swedish film about the fate of three women in the early 20th century.
Set around 1917 the film is about three women all of whom, at the beginning, are seen individually awaiting to give birth in a hospital. The three woman are Angela (Gio Petre) a blond woman who has had an illegitimate affair with an older man, Adele (Gunnel Lindblom) a bitter woman who is in an unhappy marriage and Agda (Harriet Andersson) who is a happy-go-lucky woman who gets married to a gay man just so she can be in the house with another man with whom she is having an affair.
The film, directed by Mai Zetterling in 1964 [who was a well known European actress at the time] is quite good for a first film.The first half in particular is artfully put together. It is set in the hospital and shows that the women are virtually imprisoned awaiting to give birth. As they wait they reflect on their lives and loves, which we see with numerous lap dissolves. In each episode we see that the women have had experiences that have shaped their particular outlook on life.
The primary flashback shared by the three is set in an all girls school where the element of female bonding [and even lesbianism] formed their future sexual and personal encounters. In these sequences the women's past comes to life and we are made to understand and empathize with the tragic situations of their lives and loves. In this way the film very much feels like an Ingmar Bergman film.
The film's second half is primarily set at an all night midsummer's night party at the mansion of a rich couple. There the women each attend and deal with the various situations in their lives. What we see is that the upper classes stifle the women's freedom - as do the misogynistic men who control them. The film at this point begins to feel a bit like Jean Renoir's The Rules of The Game in which a party at a country chateau brings forth class differences and shows that the rich are completely out of touch with anything but their own existence.
Shot in stunning black and white by Sven Nykvist [who was Bergman's regular DP] the film is - if anything - just great to look at. But despite all the Bergman references - which are obvious - Loving Couples is less rigorous and more free. However, the film's visual style is not consistent from scene to scene and due to this the film's impact is less strong.
The film's narrative too is not so well focused. While it starts as a film about the three women it becomes a film about the decadence of the upper classes of which the women are a part - but mainly from the outside. And while we are made, early on, to sympathize with the women by the end their fate does not seem so significant.
Part of the reason for the narrative discontinuity may be because the film is based on a seven volume novel by Agnes von Krusenstjerna. In such a long series of books the characters can be developed so much better but in a film we only get bits and pieces, which speak to larger themes.
Loving Couples is ironically titled. There are no loving couples or even happy couples. Instead the primary theme that eventually comes to the surface - as the women await to give birth - is that their freedom will never come - but that their ultimate happiness will come in the form of motherhood.