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.
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
(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.
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