Review: En Och En (One and One)

[Originally published in Movietone News 66-67, March 1981]

How, one wonders, did the three directors of this odd seriocomic romance-tragedy divide up the responsibilities? Did Josephson direct Thulin’s solo scenes and Thulin Josephson’s, with Nykvist handling all the scenes they’re in together (the majority)? Or was it a case of everyone mucking in, the two stars handling the histrionics and the cameraman running the technicalities? Whatever the truth, it’s a film without an auteur, though there’s lots of “authorship” on display; and it spoils the movie. Parts of it are terribly moving, and most of it is true enough to the awkward corners of most of our lives to make the film’s quality of unease all-pervading. But, damnably, it fails narrowly just where it’s absolutely vital that it should succeed – with the result that the ending, which should be heartbreaking, gives one a sense, admittedly a guilty sense, of relief.

The two central characters are middle-aged cousins, Ylva (Thulin), an artist just out of a long and unhappy love affair, and Dan (Josephson), a wealthy, indolent recluse. Now, it’s essential that Dan – known to everyone, because of his obvious old-maidishness, as Uncle Dan – be a dreadful embarrassment to one and all. As Josephson depicts him, Dan is boring, foolish, insensitive, drab, tiresome, rather nasty boor who knows quite well how universally he’s despised. He takes no care of himself, wastes his life, lounges endlessly in bed, littering his home with stray pastries (all he ever seems to eat) and doing nothing very much except making the occasional stab at reading Goncharov’s Oblomov (the saga of a man who’s retreated from life and spends all his time in bed). Ylva proposes that he break out of his seclusion and come on a touring holiday with her. In the course of their travels she realizes how far her own unthinking cruelty to him when they were children has made him the apology for a human being he is, and she also realises how thinly his dullness and buffoonishness mask a total despair. She falls in love with him but he can’t break free of the restrictions he’s so painstakingly placed around his existence. Finally, screaming hatred at her for all she’s done to destroy him, he disappears. It’s her offer of love, of course, that he finds utterly unbearable: he can’t risk happiness for fear of losing it, and nullity seems to him preferable to pain.

Josephson’s impersonation of an intensely irritating 45-year-old schoolboy is unnervingly exact. He handles several scenes perfectly: Dan goading an embarrassed male companion into telling Ylva all about the porno movie he’s just seen; or deliberately leaving his wallet where someone can pinch it, so that he can use its disappearance as an excuse to terminate the holiday. But finally he can’t make us do more than pity Dan. There’s only one scene where Dan’s humanness is predominant, and it’s the best in the film: Ylva follows him to a jazz club and is astonished to see him dancing energetically with a strange girl he’s picked up, really enjoying himself until he spots her, whereupon he resumes his customary pose of boorish clod. The sense of a likeable personality lost in this scene is so acute that Ylva’s flood of tears and stammered apology seem to echo our own sentiments; we feel that we, too, in the audience have ruinously interrupted someone’s chance at happiness. But this real man inside Dan is never there again, and Thulin’s Ylva is so affecting and warm and understanding and piercingly aware of life’s pain that his rejection of her at the end, however one may rationalise it on paper, seems finally mere perversity and so stupid as to be downright objectionable. In other words, Dan really is the pain-in-the-ass he’s always seemed, and thus it’s hard to care for him as he vanishes among the sand dunes in the final shot. Our compassion for Ylva should be shared, surely, with this dreadful but dreadfully human cousin; but, in the final analysis, one’s a little glad to be rid of him.

© 1981 Pierre Greenfield

EN OCH EN (One and One)
Direction: Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin and Sven Nykvist. Screenplay: Erland Josephson. Cinematography: Sven Nykvist. Music: Palestrina et al. Production: Bengt Forslund, Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin.
The players: Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin, Bjorn Gustafson, Sven Lindberg, Torsten Wahlund.

A pdf of the original issue can be found here.


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