The opening is cumulative aural suffocation -- humming, a record playing softly, the amplified tapping of an obese client's stubby fingers, until Eva Dahlbeck, the owner of a Stockholm fashion agency, nervously snuffs out her cigarette. What's eating her? She takes her top model, Harriet Andersson, to Gothenburg for a shoot, and emotional turmoil peaks on the train ride, segueing into near-suicide and a silent scream, Dahlbeck mumbling "Please, God, let me see him...," soaked and shaken. As it turns out, "him" is former flame Ulf Palme, now married, bald and defeated by life, though still her object of affection, even if only for an afternoon in a hotel. Ingmar Bergman's grasp between them is supremely intimist, structured upon the long-take as a sustained ruffling of moods, sad and hopeful and pathetic, intruded upon by Palme's wife (Inga Landgré), whose steel-grip is long past jealousy, even. The bifurcated plot traces another rendezvous, Andersson's with dapper, old Gunnar Björnstrand, who materializes as a shopping window reflection and proceeds to regale her with gowns, pearls, hot chocolate. "This is a day for wishing," he announces, then takes her to his mansion, where she gets giggly over bubbly champagne and play-acts as Audrey Hepburn on a bearskin rug, before all fizz is stolen by the appearance of Björnstrand's hard-faced daughter (Kerstin Hedeby), who brings the harshness of reality with her. Bergman's day-long, we-the-career-women saga places the shallow narcissism of youth along with the melancholy yearning of middle-age, or hope versus regret. The passion of women and the fumbling of men, relationships punctured or possibly imagined -- dreams, brittleness exposed both in close-up (Dahlbeck at the phone booth) and in long-shot (Björnstrand's collapse following the spook-house spin). Andersson still has her youth to misspend; Dahlbeck, meanwhile, looks back as another muffled shriek is covered by the mask of imperious professionalism, as redoubtable a subject as any for Bergman's final track-in. With Sven Lindberg. In black and white.
--- Fernando F. Croce