Secrets of Women marks my thirteenth Ingmar Bergman film seen. At the risk of being reductive, I think Secrets of Women is best described as "Bergman directs an episode of The Golden Girls." Five women - four of them married - await the arrival of their husbands at a summer home kept in the family. Throughout the night, the women trade confessional stories about key events in their relationships.
I was initially put off by how quickly they get to the drama in this one. We barely have our bearings at all before we're being hit by spaced out talk of loveless marriage. It's a film that could certainly have benefited from a more organic opening.
It also needed a more concrete conclusion. One woman hasn't even had a flashback story by the time the men arrive, hastening the end of the story. We're left feeling as though Bergman had the idea for the concept here, wasn't interested in setting it up and then tired of it as he went, saying, "Oh, the hell with it. The guys get there, the young ones sneak off, 'The End'."
I was conscious throughout the film of its attention to water, from the lake(?) that washes up against the property to glasses and sinks. Water seems symbolic to me partly of womanhood (especially during Marta's tale of becoming pregnant), and partly as a representative of the world at large. The very first shot of the film establishes that the rest of the world lie on the other side of the lake, and this is why the final shot of the film gives us Maj and Henrik's inauspicious foray away from the family home into their lives.
There are very familiar themes here, conjuring thoughts of later Bergman works such as Smiles of a Summer Night, All These Women, Wild Strawberries and even Persona. I hate to dismiss Secrets of Women/Waiting Women as merely an "early draft," but I confess that's my summary judgment of it.
With about another half hour, I think this could have easily been a four-star film for me. As it is, the opening and conclusion are so perfunctory that the film feels rushed and incomplete.