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Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Produced in 2005
Main Language - SWEDISH with English subtitles
A sequel to 1973’s award-winning Scenes From A Marriage, Bergman follows the relationship between Marianne( Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson) twenty years later. Now divorced, she comes to visit her ex-husband for the weekend only to be caught up in the emotional battle between him, his son from a later marriage, and his grand-daughter.
Originally made for Swedish TV and possibly Bergman’s last project, Saraband is sterling proof that his dramatic power has never dwindled. His technical mastery is evident throughout with a story that’s divided into 10 bookended chapters, which maintains the close relationship between artifice and reality. The film also reunites Ullmann with Josephson, whom she directed in the Bergman-scripted Faithless. Their performances are brimming with brilliance, creating complex characters that breath with emotion and angst. Saraband is a gripping and compelling experience that serves as the perfect curtain calls to the career of one of the true living masters of cinema.
Barry Forshaw on 8th March 2006
Author of 564 reviews
Following on from 'Scenes from a Marriage' three decades earlier, Bergman's latest (and last?) film is, as the title suggests, a measured piece in which Marianne (Ullmann) and Johan (Josephson) meet again after thirty years without contact.
Publisher: Tartan Video
Length: 107 mins
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Cat No: TVD3594
Format: DVD Colour
- Making-of documentary
- Stills gallery
- Film notes
- Tartan trailer reel.
by Mike McCahill on 22nd December 2005
Saraband is reputed to be Ingmar Bergman’s final film, but it’s also the sequel to one of his most successful works (1973’s Scenes from a Marriage), which may explain ... Read on
Saraband is reputed to be Ingmar Bergman’s final film, but it’s also the sequel to one of his most successful works (1973’s Scenes from a Marriage), which may explain why it’s his final film: the day even Ingmar Bergman has to resort to making sequels, and recalling former glories, is surely the day he might as well give up film-making for good. Yet there’s a sense Bergman has returned to the leads of Scenes from a Marriage for more than just commercial reasons. By reuniting former lovers Marianne (Liv Ullman) and Johan (Erland Josephson), he not only sets out the chairs for a rich new round of performances, but is allowed to sound a poignant note of reconciliation with which, if the rumours are true, he can round off his career. A director sometimes typecast as a misery has, it seems, finally found some kind of acceptance in this world.
The film consists of four actors playing two-handed psychodramas (or duets, given the title) that unroll like scenes from the confessional, or a therapist’s couch, the twin poles of Bergman’s career. First, there is the aforementioned rematch between Marianne and Johan; but then new players arrive to accompany them. Johan’s granddaughter Karin (Julia Dufvenius) is a gifted cellist who, since the death of her mother, has shared the marital bed (platonically, it’s assumed) with her over-protective father, Johan’s son Henrik (Borje Ahlstedt).
These last two characters are too, too close: theirs is a stifling, father-daughter, teacher-pupil bond that means one can’t function without the other. But if this isn’t healthy, Bergman is here also interested in the opposite extreme, of distance between relations. Marianne has, she tells us in the film’s prologue, one daughter in Australia, and another she’s never touched in a mental institution she can’t bring herself to visit. There’s distance between Johan and Henrik, too, tied up in a professional rivalry (both are professors) and personal dislike (Henrik never really got on with Marianne) that has never quite been resolved.
Veteran directors often take intergenerational squabbles as amongst their final subjects, but most express an oldie’s exasperation with, or incomprehension of, the ways of the new world, and few would have as much sympathy for the 19 year-old Karin as they would old-timers like Marianne and Johan. The women, as almost ever in Bergman, get a better deal. It’s Marianne who initiates the film’s one great rapprochement, between herself and Johan, and there is elsewhere a sad sense that men like Johan and Henrik are too fragile to be bearing such strong grudges; they’re like Grumpy Old Men without the comic relief or even the possibility of a happy ending. (Inevitably, it’s Marianne who brings about the touch that graces a hopeful coda.)
Saraband remains a chamber piece, rarely out-of-doors, but it’s a chamber piece of exceptional intimacy, full of rich, lingering close-ups. At times, it seems as though we are ourselves tucked up in bed with Johan and Marianne or Henrik and Karin, or getting drunk at the very same table as Karin and Marianne. In his last film, Bergman may finally have achieved the God’s-eye view that bothered him all these years: understanding, forgiving, even, but all-seeing nonetheless.
For his actors, certainly, there can be no hiding. The reliance on symmetry and asymmetry in performance styles, the give and take of scenes with only two people in them, means there simply isn’t room for false notes. You’d expect seasoned professionals like Ullmann and Josephson to be this understated and moving, but Ahlstedt is able to summon up ferocious, unexpected, convincing eruptions of long-suppressed bile from somewhere within his short, stout and decidedly avuncular frame, and the film has a real find in Dufvenius, who could have let the side down and left the precise dramatic structure wonky, yet manages to combine an airy, typically Scandinavian, youthful lightness with unshakeable, typically Bergman doubts about Karin’s situation.
Everybody appears privileged to be working from this screenplay, a vast repository of wit, in both the sense of knowledge and learning as well as the plainer sense of funny. Saraband offers Bergman’s first lawyer gag: referring to Marianne’s profession of barrister, Johan suggests she “should be used to the world’s idiocy and repulsiveness”. And a line which might, in earlier Bergman, have been read with an impossible torturedness (“Whoever said damnation was supposed to be fun?”) is here leavened by a wry chuckle from Josephson that makes it easier to see Bergman’s influence on Woody Allen.
Yet, in the modern cinema, the filmmaker Saraband most recalls is Kieslowski. It has the same feeling as the ‘Three Colours’ trilogy, another final work: that of sacred text, bright guiding light before the darkness, cinema that demands a total reverence from its audience and then pays back that faith in intense, comic-dramatic, illuminating instalments.
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