January 19, 1981 12:00 PM

Ingmar Bergman’s latest meditation on modern marriage is also one of his bleakest, which is saying a lot. Using a cast drawn from the Munich stage, he tells a tale of a business executive who confesses to a psychiatrist friend that he’s had dreams of killing his wife. The shrink—who has designs on the wife—reassures him. Then the husband murders a whore who has the same first name as his wife. Much of the stony is told in flashback, with the murder coming early on, so there’s no suspense. Usually Bergman’s explanations are more interesting than the events; here they are just banal. The acting is excellent, and Walter Schmidinger, who plays a homosexual acquaintance of the couple, is exceptional. But where Bergman’s other movies about domestic upheaval have had a compassionate side, Marionettes is coldhearted. (In German with subtitles) (R)

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