So of course it’s no surprise in Intermezzo (1936), when the older famous violinist, Holger – happily married with children he adores, something that is established in the first few minutes of the film or so it felt – falls in love with Anita, his daughter’s youthful piano teacher. It’s the “second spring” trajectory that has been rehashed again and again before and since this film, and yet!
I found that the portrayal of both parties was rather sensitive and well done: although it does adhere to the good ol’ “Older Man Falls For Young Woman & Rediscovers His Love of Life/Living, Leaving His Wife & Children For His Second Spring” trajectory (… spoiler alert?), if there’s one word I can use to describe the way the affair and the characters are portrayed in this film, it’s that it’s incredibly generous. Holger, a famous violinist and quite absent father (due to his tours) returns home and promptly falls in love with his daughter’s piano teacher (while she’s playing the piano, of course). It’s not particularly inventive, but Gustaf Molander did a pretty fine job with character development as the relationship progressed in the film, especially with Anita’s character (Ingrid Bergman). Gösta Ekman (Holger) is spectacularly expressive, cementing straightaway that Holger loves his family, adoring especially his daughter, and I enjoyed this expressiveness quite a bit throughout the film. I’ve read a couple reviews saying it was a bit on the slow side overall, but I never felt it was a drag to watch.
OK, actual spoiler alert coming up ahead, so if you have yet to watch the film (it’s from 1936, so there’s been plenty of chance to watch it since its release) and would like to watch it without knowing what happens (even if it’s painfully obvious with multiple foreshadowing elements spoken by the characters – mostly by Margit, actually), skip the following paragraph below the cut.
If there’s one thing about the entire thing that does bother me, it’s how garish the solution to the conclusion was (i.e. how to get Margit to accept Holger back into the fold after having left her and the children for Anita for a length of time). Putting the daughter into mortal danger to get the parents back together without the requisite Hard Conversation on-screen was a bit of a cheap move, I felt, but I suppose for the delight that the rest of the movie was, I can in good conscience recommend it.
END OF SPOILER!
Alright, so adultery in fiction is a rampant theme, stretching all the way back to at least Zeus’ indiscretions (of course we’re assuming that monogamous relationships are the expected standard, which judging by Hera’s wrath is probably true for that relationship at least). But what is it about adultery that captures our imagination? An essay from the Globe and Mail’s Arts – Books and Media section outlines it pretty well, I think, when the author states that the common thread running through every adulterous novel, no matter how it portrays the characters, is that “[t]he tension between these two versions of love – the idealized and the “real” – is what makes adultery-as-subject-matter so fascinating” (McLaren, Cheatin’ Hearts, 2012). And if we consider that many – most? – works of literature assume a monogamous foundation upon which the stories are built, monogamy being the norm, then adultery is a pretty flagrant middle-finger to the established/accepted norm. Which is why this article about how the portrayal of infidelity on TV has changed over time is also very interesting: High Infidelity: how TV’s portrayal of affairs has evolved.
But if you’re looking for a couple of reads about extramarital affairs (or infidelity outside of marital ties), look no further! Because that sounds like a pretty suspect statement, I’m going to just put a N.B. here: please bear in mind that I’m not suggesting titles that focus on “what to do if you suspect your SO is cheating on you”, nor a guide regarding how to commit infidelity (I’d probably much sooner refer you to couple’s therapy resources), so much as a list of titles about infidelity as a phenomenon, whether throughout history (or in modern times) or as a topic of research from a slight remove:
- The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel (2017)
- Infidelity: Why Men and Women Cheat by Kenneth Paul Rosenberg (2018)
- Untrue by Wednesday Martin (2018)
- Royal Affairs: A Lusty Romp Through the Extramarital Adventures That Rocked the British Monarchy by Leslie Carroll
- The Lady in Red: An Eighteenth-Century Tale of Sex, Scandal, and Divorce by Hallie Rubenhold
- There are more if you’d like to take a look under the subject heading of “Adultery” on our catalogue.
And lastly, although I promised myself this would not be a post recommending more adulterous films or novels, I can’t help noting one I particularly enjoyed when we got it on DVD & Blu-ray: The Cakemaker.
Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!