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Saraband (Sous-titres français)
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Saraband - the acclaimed follow-up to the Golden Globe-winning Best Foreign Film, Scenes From A Marriage - is director Ingmar Bergman's last statement on film, "a powerful and poignant final roar from the grand old man of cinema" (Richard Corliss, Time). Thirty years after their divorce, Marianne (Liv Ullman, in a reprise of her National Society of Film Critics Award-winning role) impulsively decides to visit Johan (Erland Josephson) at his isolated country retreat. Upon her arrival, she bears witness to the tortured relationship between her bitter ex-husband, his hated son Henrik (Borje Ahlstedt), and 19-year-old granddaughter, Karin (Julia Dufvenius). Unable to cope with his wife's recent death, Henrik expresses his grief through an unhealthy obsession with his teenage daughter. Ignoring his son's protests, Johan offers to send the girl to a prestigious music conservatory, forcing Karin to choose between a promising future as a cellist or caring for her tormented father.
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While there is a surface pleasure in seeing the two together again, we realize how poisonous Johan has become, allowing his 61 year old son from an earlier marriage, and his granddaughter to live in a separate house on the estate, although he hates his son. The granddaughter is in turn trapped by a desperate, near incestuous relationship with her father. In a series of simple, honest, and very powerful scenes, we watch these characters bounce off of each other in various combinations.
And while all of them are plagued by deep, perhaps unforgivable flaws, I always understood that Bergman felt for them, and wished the fragments of humanity buried inside could free them. I didn't feel the film was as dark as many people for this reason. Like a directing priest, Bergman hates the sin, but not the sinner, so these people, so easy to hate, or at least dismiss on paper, keep us interested and emotionally involved, praying they will find their way out of the darkness. A strong and powerful swan song from a great film-maker, making his last film at 85.
However, it turned out to be one of Bergman's better films, even if it does suffer from not having Sven Nykvist behind the camera. The script is first-rate, the acting (of course) is brilliant, and like all of his better work it leaves a deep impression in your mind for days and weeks afterwards.
While not quite on the level of Persona, Cries and Whispers, Winter Light, or The Seventh Seal, it is comparable (in terms of quality) to 'Scenes From A Marriage,' 'After the Rehearsal,' or 'Secret Lives of Marionettes.'
It moved me deeply.
It is a disturbing, uncomfortable, and uncompromised work from cinema's greatest artist. Unquestionably one of the best films of 2005.
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Three decades later, Bergman, Josephson and Ullmann have given us Saraband, a late-life gift. Marianne decides that even though she hasn't seen Johan since the 1970s, it's time to make contact again. Johan has inherited money from an aunt, and lives in splendid isolation overlooking a lake. She literally wakes him with a kiss, but soon enough Marianne's fantasy of an idyllic reunion evaporates as she gets drawn deeper into the power struggles in Johan's family.
Henrik, Johan's son, is staying in a nearby cottage with his daughter Karin. Both of them still mourn Anna, Henrik's wife and Karin's mother, who died two years before. Henrik, a music teacher, is preparing Karin, an accomplished cellist, for her conservatory entrance exams. The elderly Johan remains cold-hearted but charismatic (not unlike Bergman's own father) and one of the questions the movie explores is why people are so attracted to him. Henrik wants his father's affection and acceptance, even though Johan refuses to give it, ostensibly due to some slight by Henrik when he was 19 years old. In a painful scene, Henrik goes to Johan to ask for money to help Karin, and in his 61 year old face, we see the bewilderment of the boy who never came to grips with his self-absorbed father.
For Karin, her grandfather is a counterweight to the suffocating embrace of her father. Karin struggles to figure out what she owes Henrik, what she owes to the memory of her mother, and what she owes to herself. She lets Marianne see some, but not all, of the turmoil she's going through. For Marianne, her attraction to Johan remains as difficult to pin down as it was when she was married to him. She's always wanted something from him, but since she can't define what it is, she'll probably never get it.
The struggles between the characters get played out over ten riveting scenes bookended by Marianne's opening and closing monologues. Karin makes her choices. Henrik reacts. Marianne throws herself once more against Johan's emotional aloofness. As he's done throughout his brilliant career, Bergman brings it alive through artful dialog, perfect dramatic timing, and riveting cinematic composition. The characters are not always likable, but they are never less than engrossing.
The Criterion's DVD includes a mini-documentary of Bergman making Saraband. We watch the 87 year old director slump to the floor to illustrate some blocking, kid around with the crew, poke and prod his actors into position. It's a treat to watch him work. One wonders if any other director will ever elicit such an emotionally powerful performance from Julia Dufvenius, the fine young actress who plays Karin. One also wonders why Bergman put himself through the grueling labor of making another film after he'd announced he was through.
Bergman spent his entire career obsessed by the difficulties of human connection. Apparently he wants to say one last thing about it, which seems to be this: after all the tears and shouting, all the posturing and cruelty, all the reaching out and pulling back, this is what remains: marriages of true minds (the photo of Anna used in the film is a picture of Bergman's great love, his deceased wife Ingrid); the fraught ties of fathers and sons; memories of old loves; what you give and get from children; and the devolution of the flesh. None of it is easy, the master tells us, but all of it is necessary. In the end, it's all you have.
What's truly sad is that Bergman, sixty years after embarking on his cinematic journey, claims that he's done. He did for film what Shakespeare did for theater, took it to new levels by expanding the language used to describe the glories and follies of human striving. He will certainly be missed and he can't be replaced.
But don't see Saraband for nostalgic reasons. It's a moving, insightful film that deserves a place in the director's canon. Saraband stands on its own, but it's a deeper experience if you watch Scenes from a Marriage first.
Legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman officially "retired" from filmmaking in 1982 following the release of his highly acclaimed autobiographical drama, "Fanny and Alexander." That was supposed to have been his swan song, yet, since that time, he has made so many TV movies that have been released into theaters in the United States that, for Americans at least, it has pretty much been a "retirement" in name only.
His latest such film to be released here, "Saraband," is, technically, a sequel to his earlier masterwork, "Scenes From a Marriage," which was also a made-for-TV work that received theatrical distribution in the United States in 1974. "Saraband" reunites us with the now-divorced couple, Marianne and Johan, whom we are told have not really spoken to each other for almost thirty years. For reasons that she is not even able to fully explain to herself, Marianne (Liv Ullman) feels compelled to visit her ex-husband (Erland Josephson) and find out how he's doing and, perhaps, figure out if there still might be something between them. However, despite the fact that this new film is billed as an extension of the original "Marriage," Johan and Marianne wind up somewhat on the periphery of the real story which involves the incestuous relationship between Henrik (Borie Ahlstedt), Johan's son from a previous marriage, and his beautiful 19-year old daughter, Karin (Julia Dufvenius). Henrik is a classical musician whose beloved wife, Anna, has recently died. In some strange way, he clings to Karin almost as a replacement for Anna - even though there are hints that the incest began before Anna's death and that indeed Anna was aware of it - making it clear to his daughter that he would be utterly destitute if she were ever to leave.
This is obviously heady stuff for the viewer, but Bergman is, as always, so in control of his material that we are drawn into the conflict even though, initially, we may be repelled by what is taking place. In addition to the struggle between father and daughter, there is also the intense hatred between Johan and Henrik - so intense, in fact, that Henrik even admits he would take great pleasure in seeing his father stricken with a horrible illness that would cause him a slow and agonizing death. Caught in the middle of all this, as both observer and confidante, is Marianne, who can proffer only so much help and advice before she, too, risks becoming infected by the emotional disease that holds these people in its grip. Yet, of all the characters, Marianne appears to be the most stable and hopeful in her dealings with life. For instance, she can see the ugliness of much of Johan's way of interacting with people, yet she can still find a core of something worth loving buried deep inside the man.
Even for a Bergman chamber drama with just four people in its cast, "Saraband" is a remarkably stark piece of cinema and, as such, it may be off-putting to those unfamiliar with the director's work. The camera rarely moves outdoors, preferring instead to remain intensely focused on the characters who pour out at great length their darkest, deepest thoughts for us to muse over and examine. His is a complex tale of people quietly torn asunder by unhealthy obsessions, morbid self-interest and an inability to reach out in love and forgiveness even in the darkest moments of one's life. And as always with Bergman, the four performers transcend mere acting and literally become the characters on screen.
The decades certainly haven't mellowed Bergman's mood when it comes to the contemplation of death or the meaninglessness of existence, so make sure you're in the right frame of mind before taking on this film. But those who are true devotees of Bergman's work will certainly not want to miss "Saraband."
Henrik's wife died two years ago and he is miserable. He has an unhealthy obsession, in other words, an incestual relationship with his daughter. Bergman clearly leaves that impression as they sleep in the same bed. Karin is the recipient of his pain.
Marianne encounters the sadness of Karin, they share talks openly, and Marianne learns the hostility of Henrik of his father. Through a letter Karin discovered, she learns about Anna, the wife who died.
A memorable quote:
Henrik speaking to Marianne of his father: "I hate him in every dimension of the word. I hate him so much I'd happily watch him die of some horrible disease. I'd visit him daily and take note of his torment down to the last breath."
The movie is set in chapters, uniquely played out. Most scenes call for two persons and no one else enters, it becomes a closed set without intrusions. The sets were manufactured with great detail. And Bergman favors the close-up shots. The film is lengthy, quiet, and absorbing.
A special treat is to view the master at work in The Making of Saraband, and moreso, you will see readings by the actors. This treat offers great insight into Bergman's work. Enjoy! Rizzo
Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson), the heroes of "Scenes of a Marriage (1973), meet again after thirty years when Marianne suddenly decides to visit Johan at his old summer house. When he asked why she came, she answered that she thought he had called for her. The story of Marianne and Johan in this film provides a background for another story which involved Johan's son from his first marriage, 61 year old musician Henric and his 19 year old daughter Karin whom Henric has been giving cello lessons and dreams of her becoming a famous performer. There is one more character present in the movie, even though she's been dead for two years - Anna, late Henric's wife and Karin's mother who has been deeply missed and mourned by everyone including Johan.
This film is dedicated to Ingrid von Rosen, Bergman's last wife who died in 1995. It is her face we see at the photograph of Anna which Bergman shows over and over again. It seems to me that one of the reasons of making "Saraband" was for Bergman the chance to say to Ingrid, "I love you and I miss you and even death can't take you from me". In his last movie, Bergman sadly proves (once again) that even time can't heal the painful wounds caused by deeply-rooted hatred which is only one step away from love. How disturbing was the scene between 86 -year-old father and 61-year-old son. They looked the same age, old, grey-haired men who still cherish the hatred and contempt for each other that go way back and there is no victory in this power struggle. But there is hope in the movie for young Karin who breaks out of the world that she was forced to believe she belonged to but she did not and she found the strength to leave and to be free and to make her own decisions...
As all Bergman's films, "Saraband" does not provide the easy answers to the difficult questions; it does not provide any answers at all but as old Johan in the most moving scene of the film bares his body, Bergman bares his very soul and lets us look inside of it and maybe learn something about ourselves.
Marianne (Liv Ullmann) is a successful lawyer in her 60s who returns to her ex-husband's solitary retreat just for a visit. Her ex-husband Johan (Erland Josephson), since remarried and redivorced, has a son Henrik (Börje Ahlstedt) by another wife who lives nearby on the lake: Henrik is a musician and writer and lives with his daughter Karin (Julia Dufvenius), teaching her cello in preparation for an audition at the music conservatory. What Marianne finds after thirty years absence is that Johan and Henrik are on bitter terms, that Karin is frustrated with her demanding teacher/father, and that the recurring 'saraband' movement of this story is the mutual adoration and mourning of Anna, Karin's mother and Henrik's deceased wife. Marianne and Johan muse over their past lives, discovering that despite circumstances they still love each other. Marianne is able to open the hearts of Karin, Johan, and Henrik and provide a tender voice that brings a degree of resolution to a family broken.
As with all of Bergman's films it is not the story content as the method in telling that makes his films so indelibly and quietly passionate. Everything is understated: solo sequences are played with Bach's solo cello suites, and when two or more characters interact the music becomes Brahms and Bruckner. This is an elegant pastoral about looking into the mirror of our souls in old age and finding both the beauties and the missed opportunities of a life now passing toward the end. Each of the four actors is splendid, though watching Liv Ullmann in her native tongue is a renaissance of memory of all the fine work this extraordinary actress has done. Bergman gives us an elegy not a eulogy and one can only hope for more. Highly recommended on every level. In Swedish with English subtitles. Grady Harp, February 06
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