Erotikon (1920) movie poster

director Mauritz Stiller
viewed: 07/15/2012 at the Castro Theatre, SF, CA

First off, Erotikon sounds like something it’s not.  What it is: a modern (for 1920) comedy of the sexes.

From Swedish director Mauritz Stiller, one of the two most important silent directors from Sweden in the silent era, it’s a surprisingly light romp in the homes of the well-heeled society of the time.  It centers around an entomologist, his wife, her would-be lovers, and a rather precocious niece in a romantic pentagram or quadrangle that is constantly morphing shape.  The entomologist, at one point, explains in a lecture the sociology of particular type of beetles what turns out to be a ripe metaphor for the levels of friction in the human world.  Apparently the beetles are happy polygamists, with two or more females on hand, never happy with just one (the amusing intertitles featuring bugs and other amusing illustrations make this even more comical).

Not really knowing where the film is going made for a bumpier, odder ride.  In some ways, it’s a comedy of miscommunication and misunderstanding, kind of like a former Three’s Company, if you will.  What is as amusing as anything in the film is its resolution, a charmingly brisk and cheerful break with societal norms, which turns out to be the only way for everyone to find happiness.

The film has been noted as an influence on many that came after it, most significantly Jean Renoir’s La Règle du jeu (1939).  It’s far lighter and fluffier than that film, in fact, it’s pretty much a cinematic confection.  It’s cute and quite amusing, though its title certainly lead you to imagine otherwise.