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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++
When I was a teenager, I watched "Scenes from a Marriage" which was shown
British Television during the early seventies. I became engrossed, as the
unrelenting camera stared and recorded the break-up of a doomed
relationship. The characters seemed hell-bent on this destruction despite
themselves. It was a fascinating, harrowing series and I enjoyed it. I
have done, because I never forgot the impression it gave me. Luckily the
kept the original soundtrack, and the show was sent using subtitles. The
drama offered in those foreign tongued, angry, desperate conversations was
of the highest quality.
Now, over 30 years later, I am in my living room once more watching Johan and Marianne. Only this time I don't need subtitles, as I have since learnt Swedish. :-)
Bergman weaves a tale of vindictive dependence and of a young girl's decision to finally make her own way in life - despite some very powerful forces preventing such a move.
Marianne decides to seek out Johan, meets him and becomes involved in the tug of war over his grand-daughter's future with the girl's father, Johan's depressed son Henrik (wonderfully played by Börje Ahlstedt).
A quiet, intensive film. With an important, pivotal roll for the grand-daughter Karin played by Julia Dufvenius.
Bergman should be proud of this. It's a fine epilogue to a marvelous career in cinema and story-telling.
Ingmar Bergman goes on trying to find the meaning of life and the world and what means sentiment after all. Do we love when we think we hate? What's going on in the deepness of human soul? What justifies our actions? Which truth commands human relations mainly family and marital ones? This quest is pursued by formal means and themes different of those used in some of his previous movies such as The Seventh Seal or Persona but the same interrogation is always there. A sexagenarian lady decides to pay a visit to her ex-husband whom she had not seen for more than 30 years. She will be then the spectator of a series of events involving his ex-husband, his son of a previous marriage and the latter's young daughter in a tempest of violent feelings and psychological outbursts against which her serenity and wisdom make an interesting counterpoint. There is also another character whose presence is overwhelming despite the fact that she is already dead when the movie begins: Anna the former wife of the ex-husband's son. She still lives in the heart and of the two men and the young girl with her words and deeds. The love-hate relationship between father and son and father and daughter is very intense. The scene where the character played by Erland Josephson yields one night to anguish and anxiety and seeks refuge in her ex-wife's bed ( without any sex being involved) is extremely moving. We are indeed in the presence of a masterpiece.
It's in a way fitting, that Ingmar Bergman, one of the cinema's best
directors, to choose to depart in this fashion, by expanding on an
early work, which was by all accounts fully realized, or so we thought.
In "Sarabande" we are reunited with Johan and Marianne, the
protagonists of "Scenes from a Marriage". Mr. Bergman seems to have
composed a suite in which the Sarabande movement, which is usually
introspective and dark, gives the tone to his account in this new work.
If you haven't seen the film, perhaps you should stop reading now.
When we last saw Johan and Marianne they gave the impression their relationship was over. We get to know in "Sarabande" that yes, it really happened, but that a lot of years have passed between the lovers without any actual contact between them. Usually, when intense love affairs end, both partners stay away from one another. It comes as a surprise that Marianne will even try to see Johan after all the intervening years.
When we first meet Johan, he appears to be much older than what he really is. Time has not been kind to him, or so it appears. Marianne, on the other hand is still an interesting woman, who of course, is much younger, but the contrast heightens what appears to be a gulf now between them.
Things are complicated with the introduction of Henrik, Johan's own son, who has moved to a cottage in the property, where he is living with his daughter Karin. Henrik's wife has died, but her picture seems to dominate their lives. In fact, there is something incestuous in the relationship between Henryk and Karin. We watch them in bed, although there's nothing improper about it, but we start to get a different image of what really is going on in the cottage. At one point Karin kisses her father in a way that it confirms the love-hate emotions within Karin's heart. She is trying to break away from this situation in whatever way she can.
In a way we realize that Johan, who seems to hate Henrik, perceives what is going on, but he doesn't have the strength to confront this sad man that is his son. Maryanne, stays away from the feud going on between father and son. It's clear she feels deeply for Karin, a girl that has gained her trust, but there she feels nothing for Henrik.
The acting is first rate, as in most of Mr. Bergman's films. He has the uncanny gift to get great performances from his cast, as it's the case with "Saraband". Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson are perfect as the one time lovers Marianne and Johan. Borje Ahlstedt makes an unappealing and tormented Henrik. The luminous Julia Dufvenius is marvelous as Karin, the young woman, basically at the center of the story.
This is a great coda for Mr. Bergman. He leaves us with an emotional charged film that will be treasured by all his fans.
For many years "The Seventh Seal" has not only been my favorite Bergman
film, but my all-time list topper. Although others have since moved
into that place, Bergman's genius as a probing and revelatory filmmaker
continue to astound and reward me.
"Saraband" for me is about as good as he gets...and that's high praise. Here the human soul in anguish is laid bare in all its honest need...a thwarted one...for love and understanding. A once married couple, Marianne and Johann (brilliantly portrayed by Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson) do their saraband even after 30 years apart. And like that dance, in its repetitive themes, their relationship as well as that of Johann's son and granddaughter form a kind of tragic rondo, sadly and inexorably replicated. Henrik, the 61 year old son (portrayed with amazing profoundity by Borje Ahlstedt) cannot extricate himself from the slings and arrows aimed at him continually by his father. The one character, now dead, who serves as a graceful inspiration to them all is Henrik's wife and his daughter, Karin's mother...Anna. We see her beautiful face in a photographic portrait, but her loving presence in their memory is so strong it becomes a kind of living influence. Karin, played by the stunning Julia Dufvenius, is also the victim of the family dynamic and forms the important fourth in this saraband of life and fate.
I am by no mean qualified to give a full range analysis of the film
by Ingmar Bergman, but would like to give my personal comments.
This may be the last great film as an art genre, as opposed to film as entertainment. In the early days of film directors where trying to please a reading audience. No living director has protected this heritage better than Bergman. He can still compete with the best authors of his time.
The quietness which surrounds this film, the excellent actor performances, the long footages of close-ups of faces, the first cello sonato of Bach (Saraband), the old man who is a bit like Bergman himself; all this makes the film a masterpiece. The dialogs hold great literary quality. Bergman and his film crew are able to show people who are inactive on the outside, but active on the inside; it is quietness which speaks! There is no time for trivial dialog in the films of Bergman: Here you will find people who talk out about the great tragedies in life. The composition gives you a feeling of being in a theatre.
Bergman is a living challenge to anyone who wants to take film seriously as an art form!
Now I know what all those slow movies were trying to imitate.
I had seen a lot of movies like it, but NOT QUITE. This is one of the most flawless movie I've ever seen. A revelation -- (I had never seen an Ingmar Bergman movie before.)
The ease with which emotions are communicated through the screen is unbelievable. I have never seen anything like it. What is it that makes it so different and so memorable? Every single element in this film contributes to its general beauty, the moaning cello, the words, the eyes of the amazing actors, EVERYTHING. No superfluous scenes, no unnecessary sophistication. Bergman is a master of emotional precision.
It is just a personal opinion but just like "Talk to her" was my favourite from last year, "Saraband" is the best movie I've seen this year. I recommend that you go see it if you get the chance. Don't think. Just go. If you don't like it, it will be one more movie you didn't like. But if you don't see it you risk missing a kind of cinematic orgasm.
(please note - this review refers to the theatrical release, not the TV
version) Veteran master Ingmar Bergman releases what he claims is his
final movie. In a world dominated by blockbusters, even with a
sprinkling of aspiring auteurs and masterful experimenters such as von
Trier, Bergman fulfils his iconic role as setting a gold standard in
cinema. For many art-house lovers, Bergman portrays what film can and
should do when it is at the height of its power as an art form.
Having said that it seems a strange twist of fate to be viewing Saraband, as I did, at the Edinburgh International Film Festival where it is up for the Standard Life 'audience award', along with mainstream crowd-pleasers. As I cast my vote I felt it was almost a desecration for such a movie to be entered in a popularity poll, however discerning the audience. There are a number of serious works at the Festival and they should be judged by an independent panel of experts - there is a discussion afoot to create a new award along these lines - otherwise it is like comparing Beethoven with the Beatles.
Saraband, in true Bergman tradition, wrestles with human relationships, using a slow pace, pointed dialogue, and heavy use of symbolism to explore the psychological states of the characters. Bergman encourages young directors not to direct any film that does not have a "message," but to wait until one comes along that does, yet admits himself that he is not always sure of the message of some of his films.
We are never in any doubt that this film has much point to it, even if the point is not exactly clear. It opens with the slow soulful 'saraband', of Bach's 5th unaccompanied cello suite. 'Sarabande' is one of the movements from the suite, a slow and, compared to the others, a relatively easy piece to play. Marianne (Liv Ullman), is both narrator (at the beginning and end of the film) and principal protagonist. As she walks through the rooms of a house the doors close behind her. A cuckoo clock strikes. She is in the later part of her life. She fleetingly touches the keys of a piano, as if to say she still, even in solitude, has her inner music. Her presence is explained as she goes to the veranda and we find she is visiting an ex-husband, someone who was unfaithful to her many years ago. The colours are crisp and sharp. Of all the members of her family, Marianne is perhaps the clearest of mind and most well-balanced, but it is the extended interaction (with very little action) between the main players that give us insights into the beauty of being elderly, at least for someone like Marianne who handles it well. Yet even she is filled with sadness for others.
Later chapters of the film focus on her step-grand-daughter. Karin is a cellist, living with a rather overprotective (if that's not too mild a word) father, also a musician. She has to face a difficult choice, involving her personal loyalties, her loyalty to herself and ability as a gifted young cellist, and the need to extricate herself from a situation that is bad for her but will be bad for her father if she does.
The symbolism of the title and music neatly metaphors the decisions before her. A saraband is also a two-person dance. The suggestion, made at one point, of playing it by two people alternating is essentially a frivolous one, which serious musicians would probably reject. That the Suite for Unaccompanied Cello should not be played as a duet, even with the younger person playing the 'easier part' as Karin's father suggests, is an unobtrusive symbol reminding us, in the film's later loaded context, that there are some lines that an older and younger person should never cross together.
Saraband shows how old age can tempt us to wisdom or its opposite.
"Saraband" is a moving and challenging, successful return by Bergman to the
quality of films of an earlier period, like "Hour of the Wolf" or of course
"Scenes from a Marriage," with characters held in confessional close-ups,
trapped by ego and anxiety.
With an intolerable burden of the generations, a young woman must make a choice that may be tragic. There are no useful models, not even the briefly glimpsed folk-art carving of the Last Supper with John, the beloved disciple, blissful on the lap of Jesus, not law, Kierkegaard, whiskey, or Bach either.
It is regrettable if after all these years this is Bergman's "Tempest" (though then appropriately involving Erland Josephson--all the actors are necessarily extremely good). Shakespeare did go on to work on "The Two Noble Kinsman."
SVT could have given Bergman film instead of digital recording. RAI uses film for its splendid productions, or it used to. Seen in a theatre, the visual quality was imperfect. How could people think this work would not deserve general theatrical release?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I'll never see another Ingmar Bergman movie at a theatre house:
'Saraband' is supposed to be his final movie, and it's now at the end
of his career that I finally begin to discover the beauty of Bergman's
movies. I was immediately pleased when I recognised Erland Josephson
in this movie playing Johan as Dr. David from 'Cries & Whispers,' the
only Bergman movie I've seen besides this. Bergman is reputed for
making bleak, depressing movies, but I found in 'Saraband' a cry for
the need to live, to grow without restraints, of leaving the past
behind and moving onwards, even if it hurts someone we love
happens in this movie. I actually left the movie feeling quite serene
even if I was aware of Henrik's terrifying climax to his life. I don't
think I was supposed to sympathise more with one character than other,
but I really felt closer to Henrik than any other. It seems Bergman is
no stranger to showing Man's weaknesses and idiosyncrasies, and he
shows it clearly through Henrik: his fear of abandonment and solitude
in his last years of life, something everyone should relate to, lead
him to extreme measures as suicide attempt. Bergman captures these
strange moments in one's personality which seem to make no sense to
anyone else but us; he goes deep into his characters and brings out all
their complex, confused emotions.
The storyline was straightforward: it's about family, about an old couple Marianne and Johan meeting again after several years separated. I never saw the original 'Scenes From A Marriage,' so I feel I missed a lot about their relationship, but Bergman tells it with so much clarity I never felt alienated. If anything, it's whetted my interested in the older movie. Contrasting this old couple reuniting we have the story of a father and a daughter, Henrik and Karin, the dramatic essence of the movie to me. I've just realised this movie focus on 4 characters, three of them over 50-years-old, and yet it's extremely engaging to someone my young age. The core conflict is Karin feeling torn between leaving her father to have the life, knowing he'll die without her, or staying and seeing life pass by her. It's not an easy decision for her, however I'm glad she makes the one I expected her character to make and not the one I wanted her to make: I love a happy ending, but not when they're forced and characterisation suffers in the process. The structure was also interesting: it's several small vignettes, each involving just two characters at a time; so the film is basically just a collection of conversations. It worked very well for me; each unit serves a different purpose while building on the previous one to form the bigger whole; the way Marianne and Karin struck a friendship, for instance, was nicely done; or Henrik explaining to his daughter his fear of being abandoned and how it all relates to his dead wife, Anna.
I loved the strange little touches and moments in the movie: Marianne talking to the viewer right at the start was bizarre; her 'one minute longer' scene was funny; Karin's screaming in the middle of the woods was unbearable; seeing her sleep in the same bed with her father took me by surprise; and when she kisses him in the mouth by impulse at the height of an argument, I felt disturbed; Johan's peeing himself at the end left me feeling sad for him, it's these moments of ordinary embarrassment and fear that Bergman seems so good at capturing on the screen. The cinematography was beautiful, for a television movie it could put to shame many studio productions. I particularly loved the scene where Karin is playing her cello against a white background and the camera zooms out until she fades as a speck against the horizon.
Liv Ullmann and Borje Ahlstedt were brilliant in their roles: their performances lighted the screen every time they were on; fantastic was their scene together at the church where Henrik confesses his hatred for his father. Erland Josephson was also very good, better here than in 'Cries & Whispers:' his argument with Henrik in his office will stay in my mind forever. There's something very autobiographical in when Johan says 'I know I've been a lousy father' and Henrik replies 'You haven't been a father at all.' This is something which according to Bergman one of his sons actually told him. It's amazing how this director channels so much of his own life into his work! Julia Dufvenius was very good as Karin considering it's one of her first movies, although I wonder why they didn't choose an actual 19-year-old girl to play the Karin, was it perhaps because of some of the content.
Saraband is one of the best movies I've ever seen; 2005 is still young, but already I know I won't watch such a fine movie this year again. If this is Bergman when he's in his eighties, then I wish he'd keep on making movies until he's a hundred! This is cinema at its best.
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