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Duet for Cannibals
(Duett för kannibaler)

Recently Restored
Directed by Susan Sontag.
With Adriana Asti, Lars Ekborg, Gösta Ekman.
Sweden, 1969, DCP, black & white, 105 min.
Swedish with English subtitles.
DCP source: Metrograph

Known for an inclination “Against Interpretation,” Susan Sontag accordingly imparts upon her first film an engaging inscrutability. Made in Bergman’s motherland, Duet for Cannibals seems as much an ode to European arthouse as a kind of parody, while taking a surprising form all its own. The young and intellectually savvy couple at the center, Tomas and Ingrid, seems to have settled into a hip, comfortable domesticity until Tomas takes a job archiving the materials of underground political writer Dr. Arthur Bauer. Tomas is soon both challenged and compelled by the bizarre, unpredictable behavior of Dr. Bauer and his neurotic—perhaps psychotic—wife Francesca. Their eccentric world proves an entry into unknown territory where sexual and intellectual identities, roles, motives and hierarchies are so mixed up that, eventually, representation itself is called into question. Tomas and Ingrid—who perhaps resemble Sontag’s arthouse audience—make various attempts to assign purpose and order to the incongruous psychosexual shenanigans, to the point of sacrificing their own cinematic personas. Are they imprisoned or liberated? Is this revolution? Whose coffin is that? Wildly defying interpretation of characters and behavior without renouncing a comprehensible narrative (a la Marienbad), Sontag succeeds in having her cake and deconstructing it too.

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