This Lubitsch-esque Swedish classic served as my Swedish introduction to Mauritz Stiller, considered one of the era's most prominent and important directors. Stiller, like Sjostrom eventually got the call for Hollywood, where his career didn't exactly prove fruitful. He did make the rather predictable Garbo melodrama The Temptress in Hollywood, but it is for his Swedish films he is most remembered. Of course most of these films are forever lost, but the few remaining offer up some glimpse of the talent on display here.
Erotikon is a delicately structured tale of infidelity among the upper class and remains as lighthearted and immoral as the best Lubitsch films do. It centers around a couple who each seem to be having trouble keeping their marriage vows. The husband of the two is an entomologist who sets up the plot rather early on, when mentioning a particular insect that practices in bigamy. You know where the story is heading. Irene (Tora Teje) indulges in various whims including the pursuit of an aviator (certainly looking ahead to Rules of the Game) and of course her husband's best friend. The husband is no angel and his relationship with his niece has a particularly disturbing familiarity to it. Nevertheless its all in good old fashioned immoral fun. Perhaps the biggest laugh one might get watching the film today is not in the careful interplay between characters, but in a very dated reference made early in the film where one of Irene's suitors suggests going for a ride in his 100 horse power automobile. My how technology changes.
Films of the kind are frequently high gloss products, and the production value ante gets raised early in the film. The film is relatively free from the constraints of a studio production, with a great deal of its action taking place in the outdoors, including some early shots from the air, in the film's then stunning aerial sequence. Sparing no expense was the inclusion of the film's play. An internationally respected Swedish company was hired to put on the play, and it has all the extravagence one would expect from Griffith or DeMille, who's films were finally making their way into Sweden following a cultural embargo during World War I.
I still have a hard time seeing such lighthearted fare from Sweden. Being that the majority of films from there I've seen were helmed by the typically ultra serious Ingmar Bergman, you forget sometimes that their film history is just as varied as the US or France. In fact in many ways Sweden were leaders in their market, which explains why so many people were brought over to Hollywood, which was in line with their policy of "If you can't beat 'em, buy 'em". In the days before international film festivals, I suppose that was the greatest honor you could have, being offered a job in Hollywood. Seems like these types of films would have been perfectly suited for the somewhat adventerous tastes of Hollywood in the jazz age, but he died in November of 1928.