A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Ingmar Bergman is balancing his accounts and closing out his books. The great director is 85 years old, and announced in 1982 that "Fanny and Alexander" would be his last film. So it was, but he continued to work on the stage and for television, and then he wrote the screenplay for Liv Ullmann's film "Faithless" (2000). Now comes his absolutely last work, "Saraband," powerfully, painfully honest.
Although you can see the film as it stands, it will have more resonance if you remember Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage" (1973). That film starred Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson as Marianne and Johan, a couple married 20 years earlier and divorced 10 years earlier, and who meet again in the middle of the night in a cabin in the middle of the woods. Their marriage has failed, their relationship has faded, and yet on this night it is more real than anything else. I wrote in 1973: "They are in middle age now, but in the night still fond and frightened lovers holding on for reassurance."
Now there is no more reassurance to be had. They must be in their 80s now; in real life, Josephson is 81 and Ullmann 65. Because Bergman's films can be seen again and again, and because he believes the human face is the most important subject of the cinema, we are as familiar with these two faces as any we have ever seen. I saw Ullmann for the first time in Bergman's "Persona" (1966), which I reviewed seven months after I became a film critic. Now here she is again. When I interviewed her about "Faithless" at Cannes five years ago, I noted to myself that she had not, like so many actresses, had plastic surgery. She wore her age as proof of having lived, as we all must. Now I see "Saraband" and the movie is possible because she did not allow a surgeon to give her a face yearning for its younger form.
As the film opens, she is looking through some old photographs. Marianne and Johan had two daughters together, who are now middle-aged. She never sees them; one lives in Australia, and the other has gone mad. She tells us she has not seen Johan for all of those years, but now thinks she will go to visit him. We follow her, and find that Johan is now living in misery left over from an earlier marriage. He is rich, lives in the country, owns a nearby cottage, which is occupied by his 61-year-old son Henrik (Borje Ahlstedt) and Henrik's 19-year-old daughter Karin (Julia Dufvenius). Anna-- Henrik's wife, Karin's mother -- has been dead for two years. She is missed because she was needed, as cartilage if nothing else, to keep her husband and daughter from wearing each other down.