Marianne, some thirty years after divorcing Johan, decides to visit her ex-husband at his summer home. She arrives in the middle of a family drama between Johan's son from another marriage and his granddaughter.
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Marianne and Johan meet again after thirty years without contact, when Marianne suddenly feels a need to see her ex-husband again. She decides to visit Johan at his old summer house in the western province of Dalarna. And so, one beautiful autumn day, there she is, beside his reclining chair, waking him with a light kiss. Staying at a cottage on the property are Johan's son Henrik and Henrik's daughter Karin. Henrik is giving his daughter cello lessons and already sees her future as staked out. Relations between father and son are very strained, but both are protective of Karin. They are all still mourning Anna, Henrik's much-loved wife, who died two years ago, yet who, in many ways, remains present among them. Marianne soon realizes that things are not all as they should be, and she finds herself unwillingly drawn into a complicated and upsetting power struggle. Written by
Sujit R. Varma
Claudio Abbado is an Italian conductor who has served as music director of the La Scala opera house in Milan, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, music director of the Vienna State Opera, and principal conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra. See more »
After Karin gets up to leave before playing the saraband, the wires from the lights, and the end pins for the cellos are no longer on the floor, despite being there once Karin and Henrik's conversation began. See more »
One of the very best films of the year; Bergman's last cinematic out-pouring is sublime
With Saraband, writer/filmmaker Ingmar Bergman closes the book, so to speak, on his life's work. It's a sequel, which could have been thwarting (why go back and do the same thing over again, one could ask). But it is the kind of sequel that bears significance. Bergman brings back two actors/friends he's worked with numerous times, Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, and uses their characters from his film/TV series Scenes from a Marriage for a higher purpose than to rake in the bucks. He's out to bring some closure to their relationship, however not entirely based on nostalgia. This time two other characters in the film, new ones, become the centerpiece of the story. As with the majority of his works, he finds two key assets that work to his advantage behind his own personal attachment to the project- the camera/lighting, and the cast.
It may be too easy to compare and contrast this film and the series. But it is of interest if only for curiosity sake. There is something of note that revealed to one how the actual cinematography can evolve properly or at least in a fashion that is not off-putting. This time around (unlike Sven Nykvist's perfect work on 'Marriage', a kind of pre-Dogma 95 style to use the camera with the story), Bergman decided to make the film for television (his on occasion work aside from theatre for the past twenty years since Fanny and Alexander) and also decided to implement digital photography. There are five cinematographers, and it's too tedious to pick out if which one did what properly or who lit this right and so on. But that in Saraband, however, doesn't suffer by way of the digital perspective. If anything, it serves its purpose fully by keeping the naturalistic mood. Some scenes are seen with as clear an eye as ever for Bergman. Others that may be a little more obscured by darkness are affecting psychologically in a way. Bergman's preference is to look at faces and expressions, without much to obscure the actors.
What is of surprise is that Bergman injects two things that he intentionally kept out of 'Scenes'- inner visions (actually shown, not just spoken and felt by the actors), and music. In at least a couple of scenes, to add an intensity and a sense of the surreal, we see what Karina sees in some key moments. She describes an ugly incident with her father. She runs through the woods. When something very ugly occurs, it happens off screen, with a pause given in-between one scream. Needless to say it was tremendously moving. The other involved an enormous, involving fantasy. She's just been told information by her grandfather Johan that is crucial for her decision towards the end. When she sits on the stairs, the camera suddenly cuts to pull back on her on a chair, against a white background, and the camera pulls back further and further at a quick pace. This kind of technique I could feel as if I've seen in maybe a dozen films. When Bergman does this, after such a hopeful scene for Karina, it is a useful technique. Whatever the intention, it's far greater a grab then in a standard action film. Those are the two kinds of scenes/images that are very emotional and immediate on a first viewing.
Ullmann and Josephson, who portrayed Marianne and Johan thirty years ago, never lose their ability to play off each other as actors. The focal point this time is with Henrik and Karina though, so the performances by Ahlstedt and especially Dufvenius for Bergman had to be even more affecting than those of the observers. Ahlstedt's Henrik is a tricky sort to empathize with perhaps: can an audience be with him when the drama unfolds with his daughter? Turns out he brings the humanity in all its darkness and seemingly complex inner-damnation as one of Bergman's most memorable characters. His conflicts with his father and daughter stem from a number of elements, but the key one is very identifiable- death of the one you've loved the most. How can change occur? This is a question posed as well for Karina, and in Ahlstedt playing her she already shows enough talent and gusto to take on stronger roles in the future. At first sight, I thought she might have been over-hitting her mark, or that Bergman was over-directing. This was not the case, and in the subtle moments she revealed herself on the level of one of Bergman's 'ladies' (i.e. Ullmann, Bibi Andersson, and Harriet Anderson).
As the closure, what does Bergman do? He does something rather wise to weave the story of the father and daughter together with the continuing story of Johan and Marianne with an equal resonance and emotional weight. The younger two find their own ends to the means, and I would not dare reveal how and why. But for Marianne Bergman answers a question that was asked if not out-right then with all of the action and tension and buildups and payoffs in 'Marriage'. Does a person know what emotion is, or what it feels like? In the final scene (to put it mildly), he and Ullmann answer it in an approach that practically had me in tears. This would not mark the first time this has happened while viewing a Bergman film, yet the fact that this is the last gave me a cleansing feeling, of the greatest cathartic release with a thoughtful film.
If it's one of the key objectives for a filmmaker in drama and tragedy to reveal it as truthfully as possible, and bring us with the character(s) full-circle, Ingmar Bergman's pulled it off wonderfully. Saraband is one of the crucial swan songs in film history (for my money, and will soon find its way to American theaters (digital projectors more or less likely). A++
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