Ingmar Bergman is still finding his way in his directorial debut.
Nelly has been raised by her nearly penniless “Mutti” Ingeborg in conservative small town Sweden. She is now 18 years old and has not seen her real mother, Jenny, since she was a toddler. Nelly is being wooed by veterinarian lodger Ulf but feels only friendship for the older man. On her birthday, the worldly, rather vulgar Jenny arrives from the city to take Nelly to live with her. Jenny has her flamboyant ne’er-do-well boy toy Jack in tow.
Nell has set her heart on making a splash at the local ball that evening. Jack sweet talks her and gets her drunk and she succeeds beyond her wildest dreams, thoroughly scandalizing the townspeople in the process. Lured by Jack and afraid to face the sea of judgmental faces, Nell agrees to go to work at her mother’s beauty parlor.
Ingeborg is left distraught and alone since Ulf moves out as soon as Nell does. She is also seriously ill. But more than that she worries that Nell is unhappy. Her visit to the city offers a fairly horrifying look at the clientele of the beauty parlor and confirms Ingeborg’s suspicions. Yet Nell does not want to go home. Before she can, she needs to face a crisis set up by Jack.
The film starts out looking like a satire on small town life, with some witty looks at provincial manners. It ends up as a psychological study complete with Bergman’s trademark closeups and some symbolism. Right off the bat, he obviously had a way of bringing the best out of his actors. I actually liked both halves of the movie but it could have worked better as a coherent whole. I guess he had to start somewhere.