Fredrik Egerman (Gunnar Björnstrand) is a lawyer with a much younger wife named Anne (Ulla Jacobsson), an adult son named Henrik (Björn Bjelfvenstam) from a previous marriage, and a servant named Petra (Harriet Andersson). The plot kicks off when an old flame of Fredrik's, actress Desirée Armfeldt (Eva Dalhbeck) performs in a theater play Fredrik and Anne watch...
Provides examples of:
- Adoptive Peer Parent: Anne to Henrik.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: Count Malcolm is a thoroughly unsympathetic character.
- As You Know: Fredrik's coworkers quickly summarize the characters' backstories and relationships to each other at the beginning of the film.
- Behind the Black: Desirée enters Malcolm's bedroom. He warns her not to wake his wife. "But your wife is awake." Zoom back to reveal that Malcolm simply hasn't noticed that the other half of the bed is empty.
- Blatant Lies: The Countess denies being a gossipmonger after telling Anne about Fredrik being seen leaving Desirée's place at night wearing a nightshirt and claiming that she's heard that Desirée has full-blown orgies at her home.
- Bungled Suicide: Henrik tries to hang himself, but fails to do so.
- Butt-Monkey: The others keep making fun of Henrik for studying theology and being romantically inept.
- Comedy: Probably the last film of Bergman which is primarily this. One of the few in his filmography too.
- Deadpan Snarker: Most of the characters, but Fredrik especially.
- Emo Teen: Henrik, though he's in his early 20s.
- Enemy Mine: Desirée and the Countess may be romantic rivals, but they work together to untangle the Love Dodecahedron.
- Farce: Lampshaded when Count Malcolm shows up for the first time.Fredrik: A gentleman doesn't face his rival without trousers! Can I hide somewhere?
Desirée: This isn't the theatre, my dear Fredrik.
Fredrik: But this is a damn farce nonetheless!
Malcolm: [Enters in full uniform to the sound of fanfares]
- Gory Discretion Shot: Subverted. Fredrik loses the game of Russian Roulette offscreen. As it turns out, the Count had loaded the gun with soot.
- Ironic Echo: Says Count Malcolm to the Countess after seeing Fredrik at Desirée's: "My wife may cheat on me, but if anyone touches my mistress, I become a tiger!". Later, after hearing that Fredrik is with the Countess, the Count proclaims to Desirée: "One can dally with my mistress, but touch my wife and I become a tiger!"
- Love Dodecahedron: Two men and two women at first. Four of each by the end.
- Luck-Based Search Technique: It's established that one of the rooms, a former royal bedchamber, has a button which will open a secret passage and roll in a bed from the ajoining bedroom. When Henrik tries to hang himself over his attraction to his stepmother, not only does he fail, but he lands right on the button. Guess who's in the bed that rolls in right in front of him?
- Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Desirée is revealed to have a young son named Fredrik. When Fredrik freaks out she claims he was named for Frederick The Great.
- MayDecember Romance: Fredrik and Anne. Fredrik himself is so bothered by the age difference he can't even consummate the marriage.Mrs Armfeldt: You have beautiful children, Mr Egerman. Especially the girl.
Fredrik: The girl is my wife.
Mrs Armfeldt: ...You live a very stressful life.
- Meaningful Echo: Henrik quotes Martin Luther on temptation: "You cannot stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair." Later, he declares: "Let the birds nest in my hair."
- Mistaken for Cheating: Count Malcom barges in on Fredrik wearing the Count's nightshirt and robe at Desirée's place. Fredrik had earlier fallen into a large puddle of water and changed into the only dry clothes available.Malcolm: Do you mind if I slip out of my uniform and put on my robe?
Desirée: I'm afraid it's occupied at the moment.
Malcolm: I can see that, but I expect it will be available in a few seconds.
- The Neidermeyer: Count Malcolm is a badass soldier... in an army the viewers know will never fight a war.Fredrik: Will there be a war?
Malcolm: Hah! Why would there be a war?
Fredrik: My point exactly.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: In the opinion of Mrs. Armfeldt, at least. "Beware of good deeds. They cost far too much."
- Really Gets Around: Several characters, but Desirée's mother takes the cake. She lives in a very fancy mansion given to her on the condition that she never publish her memoirs.
- Romantic Comedy: "en romantisk komedi av INGMAR BERGMAN"note
- Russian Roulette: Fredrik and Count Malcolm play a game after the Count catches Fredrik with the Countess. It ends with Fredrik losing. See Gory Discretion Shot.
- Social Climber: Petra is accused of being one by Beata.
- Talking in Your Sleep: Fredrik mumbles "Desirée" in his sleep while lying next to his wife Anne. She is not amused.
- This Is Reality: Desirée brushes off Fredrik's suggestion that he hide when the Count shows up by pointing out that they're not on the stage. Fredrik counters that it's a farce all the same.
- Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Desirée and the Countess' plot to solve their romantic troubles.