THE GIRLS (Mai Zetterling, 1968)

Swedish actress Mai Zetterling’s fourth film as director is the heady, very funny satire Flickorna in which three stage actresses, currently touring in a production of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, resort to flights of fancy/fantasy/dreams to cope with the derisive laughter of their chauvinistic men. Theirs is a world of male domination and control; but the visual presentation of Zetterling’s film, where dreams are not announced but instead drift in and out of reality, suggests an imaginative agility that augers well for the world should “the girls” take charge. Much of the film is blanketed in white: symbolical of the radical rules regarding gender equality that may yet be written on a blanked-out sheet. Surely Zetterling’s lovely film owes a substantial debt to Věra Chytilová’s then-recent, anarchic Czech Daisies (1966), at one level an antiwar film. Somehow, since it draws upon Lysistrata, so must Zetterling’s film be. One of its fantasies aurally builds from the delightful chirping of an overhead bird to the ferocious noise of overhead bombs and artillery fire. (Later, the noise of honking automobile horns—a male sound—strives to bury public female speech.) However, the antiwar suggestion in Zetterling’s film may be hard to discern given that the “ancient” tack of women withholding sex, however radical this may have been for its time, relegates women to the playing field of men. In the late 1960s, Zetterling is after so much more.
     Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson and Gunnel Lindblom play the actresses. Most especially beautiful and haunting, because so vividly, achingly real, is Harriet Andersson. You may be surprised, though, just how good the other Andersson, bespectacled here, is.
      Simone de Beauvoir: “Ironic and comic, this film moves us by the beauty of its landscapes, its poetry and above all its subtle tenderness.”

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