In a garishly decorated basement room of a tawdry, erotic cabaret, amidst the ambient pulsating, rhythmic drone of risqué music, an impassive prostitute nicknamed Ka (Rita Russek) embraces a solemn and diffident client, Peter Egermann (Robert Atzorn), caressing his face through the motions of sleep. The seemingly tender moment soon inexplicably turns to aggression when Peter violently reaches for Ka’s throat and begins to choke her – a ferocious impulse that culminates with her brutal and unconscionable murder and violation. The film then proceeds in black and white as Peter’s psychiatrist, Professor Mogens Jensen (Martin Benrath), is summoned to appear before the police investigation board and provide a deposition on his encounter with Peter on the dawn after the murder, prompted by the patient’s cryptic early morning telephone call to his private residence. Jensen reveals that Peter had sought treatment after being haunted by dreams of murdering his loving, but unfaithful wife Katarina (Christine Buchegger). However, the façade of Jensen’s impartiality and professionalism is soon stripped away when, after expediting the already suspicious Peter’s departure with a trivialized excuse for a subsequent patient appointment, he invites Katarina to his home office for a late afternoon rendezvous. Gradually, the seemingly irreconcilable relationships in Peter’s tormented life are revealed through temporal fragments of inquiries and conversations with his adulterous wife Katerina; her business partner Tim (Walter Schmidinger), an insecure, aging homosexual who harbors an unrequited attraction towards the melancholic Peter; and Peter’s mother Cordelia Egermann (Lola Müthel), a renowned actress who revels in her delusion of self-martyrdom after sacrificing her career for her children.
Filmed during Ingmar Bergman’s self-imposed exile in Germany after a protracted and acrimonious dispute with Swedish authorities on charges of income tax evasion, From the Life of Marionettes is a challenging, visually hypnotic, and atypically voluptuous film that reflects Bergman’s own personal struggle with alienation, estrangement, and psychological duress. Bergman visually contrasts the color-saturated sequences of the film’s prologue and epilogue with the austere, high contrast black and white episodes that encapsulate the chronicled activities of the characters before and after the murder. The conflated, multi-perspective narrative structure of the interviews creates an interconnected – and seemingly inescapable – sense of hermetic insularity that reflects Peter’s depression, ambivalence, and entrapment: Jensen’s testimony on Peter’s behavior after the murder that illustrates Peter’s discovery of his wife’s emotional betrayal; Peter’s unsent letter to Jensen that alludes to his feelings of inadequacy through a sensual, yet turbulent dream about Katarina; Tim’s admission of his subversive manipulation of the Egermanns relationship that reveals his own fears and desires. Interweaving reality and illusion, consciousness and dreams, and past and present, From the Life of Marionettes presents a provocative and haunting portrait of disconnection, repression, emotional violence, and intimacy.
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