Wednesday, July 25, 2018


If you have ever read the IMDb reviews of Joe Sarno's LOVE IN THE THIRD POSITION (1971; available from Something Weird Video as a DVD-R and download), you might expect it to be pretty dire. While some of the criticisms ventured by those reviewers are reasonably well-founded, I seem to have derived more than the film than they did.

Also known as SIV, ANNE AND SVEN, this is one of Sarno's Swedish films and, when he filmed there, he filmed with live sound and had his actors speak English - phonetically, if need be. He couldn't afford to post-synchronize the dialogue with professional voice actors, but he also seemed to prefer the rough edges of authenticity rather than polish. Therefore, we get the actual stilted line readings that were recorded on the set, spoken by actors working, at the very least, in something other than their native language. (The lead actress, playing a photographer, repeatedly refers to her "photo serious," meaning her photo "series.") For some viewers, this can be a deal breaker, but YOUNG PLAYTHINGS - generally considered to be one of Sarno's major works - manages to survive those conditions, and I feel this one does too.

The synopsis is easily summarized in a line or two: Siv (Liliane Malmkvist), a fashion photographer, notices that her boyfriend Sven (Bosse Carlsson) is attracted to her young assistant Anne (Britt Marie Engstroem). An Iago-like friend (a Barbra Streisand lookalike), who has sensed Anne's sexual ambivalence, urges Siv to seduce her before Sven can, if she wants to keep her man. The game Siv chooses to play has unforeseen consequences that ultimately relegate her to a private Hell, as happens to many misguided Sarno heroines.

The line readings keep us well aware that we are watching a play being performed, as it were, but in the midst of this heightened artifice - which consists of a lot of shots of people walking in and out of doors into shadowy rooms, or conversing against plain wall backdrops like characters in  comic book panels - something real begins to take shape in the shy tenderness between the characters and is ultimately manifest during the sex scenes, which are for the most part girl-on-girl. These scenes are genuinely erotic - not due to the sort of shallow, air-brushed, bouncy imagery that typically defines softcore adult cinema but to a startling authenticity that is more clinical and intense in its attention to eye contact, heavy breathing, and the unexpected changes that can be seen as people are led to the brink of shattering the chrysalis of their inhibitions and become their true sexual selves. As usual during this period of his work in the early '70s, the sex is technically softcore on camera but Sarno permitted hardcore sex on the set (outside the frame) if the actors wanted or needed it. As the film develops, so do the performances on a more emotional, intuited level. Engstroem, in particular, steals the film with her convincing sexual confusion and vulnerability.

The IMDb reviews seem disappointed that the movie isn't more of a raunchy hoot, but Sarno was a serious filmmaker. It's basically wrong to look to him for that kind of movie, even in those few, like this one, that feature dated fashions and Swedish folk rock songs for ambiance. This is another Sarno melodrama about people exploring the freedoms of their time and discovering who they are by coming face-to-face with their deepest limitations.

Also available abroad as a bonus feature in Klubb Super 8's Swedish DVD of YOUNG PLAYTHINGS.

(c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.