The island is Faro, where Ingmar Bergman lives, and the house is Bergman's house, and the beach is where he walks, and the office is where he works, and we can see a shadowy 16mm film projector in the background, and remember hearing that the Swedish Film Institute sends him weekly shipments of films to watch. And the old man in the film is named "Bergman," although we don't learn that essential piece of the jigsaw until the final credits.
Or perhaps the house and its office are a set. And perhaps "Bergman" is partly Ingmar Bergman and partly the director's fictional creation. And surely, we think, he has a DVD player by now. "Faithless," a film made from his screenplay and directed by Liv Ullmann, is intriguing in the way it dances in and out of the shadow of Bergman's autobiography. We learn in his book The Magic Lantern , for example, that in 1949 he was involved in an affair something like the one in this film--but we sense immediately that "Faithless" is not a memoir of that affair, but a meditation on the guilt it inspired.
Bergman, the son of a Lutheran bishop, has in his 80s forsaken the consolations of religion but not the psychic payments that it exacts. His film feels like an examination of conscience, and he's hard on himself. It's with a start we realize that Ullmann is also one of his former lovers, that they have a child together, and that in her vision he has clearly been forgiven his trespasses.
The movie is about a messy affair from "Bergman's" past, and it is about the creative process. As it begins, the old man (Erland Josephson) has writing paper on the desk before him and is talking with an actress (Lena Endre). It becomes clear that this actress is not physically present. The dialogue suggests the director has enlisted this woman, or her memory, to help him think through a story he is writing. But she is also the woman the story is about. And she sometimes seems to be reading her story from his notes--as if he created her, and she exists only in his words.