Interesting. I mean the reactions, not necessarily the film. Think the keys to understanding lie in a combination of social satire and Bergman playing against type. Maybe she enjoyed the chance to do something different, but yes, I found her character pretty cartoonish - all she lacked was the long, black mustache to twirl while laughing at the fools those mortals be. While I found the satire interesting and potentially compelling, it too had this unnatural quality about it.
Speaking of unnatural, the voices bugged me throughout - or rather the vocal quality. Guessing that the film was dubbed as was the Italian way of working through the period. It just seemed the speaking was way too crisp and not in a way that helped. It felt forced, almost alien.
And while Quinn's character starts out fairly average, then he is put on display for the vile machinations of his youth, the rest of the movie basically leads to the viewer being begged to pity the poor sod. Why? Because he's the target of the vile antagonist. Some might argue if his crime was truly capital in nature, but that's partly the point of the social satire, is it not? What vengeance is justified? However, the film never really ventures into the realm of examining the concept of justice. Why? See next paragraph.
However, one thing that has gone without comment is the issue of class, and contrary to what another has said, I thought she married into her wealth - this doesn't strike me as self-made though clearly she did what she had to to survive and I won't fault her for that. First off, the town fawns over her. Why? She's rich, as in filthy AND stinking. Second, they play into her hands. Why? She's rich and they want her money. Third, do they ride her out on a rail when it's revealed why the town is in its current state? No, of course not. Why? Because she's rich and she can buy every man, woman, and child for less than the cost of her undergarments. The only person who doesn't agree (completely) with her agenda doesn't have the spine to stand by his convictions. Why? Because she's rich and everyone else will do whatever she asks in the hope they get some money (a chunk of which they already spent buying on credit) and he doesn't want to be the odd man out. So basically at the end of the day, people can easily be bought by a single rich person with plan and while one might be tempted to say 'be it for good or ill', it does rather seem a point that the rich never purchase other people's souls for good. Then again, the social satire has some point to it, but I found the way dastardly deeds can be purchased by someone with a bit or tonnes of cash to be the most compelling part of the movie. And given the stage of the Cold War, one has to wonder - when the US or USSR come calling, checkbook in hand, just how many principles does a small, impoverished state have, especially when they've been driven into poverty.
So, end of discussion, the pluses are weighed against the minuses and the film comes out feeling poorly average. It's no wonder this isn't more widely known. While yes, Bergman is playing something different (and that appeals to cinephiles like us) and there is a point to the satire, both suffer from the cartoonish nature of the piece. (weak) 7 stars.
Listen, Daddy. Teacher says, 'every time a car alarm bleeps, into heaven a demon sneaks.'
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