Saraband

A rare, unexpected treat. Nearly two decades after announcing his retirement from filmmaking, Ingmar Bergman not only returned to cinema, but returned with a coda to the lives of Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson), the subjects of his six-part, six-hour TV saga SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (1973). Thirty years have passed since their marriage...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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A rare, unexpected treat. Nearly two decades after announcing his retirement from filmmaking, Ingmar Bergman not only returned to cinema, but returned with a coda to the lives of Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and Johan (Erland Josephson), the subjects of his six-part, six-hour TV saga SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (1973). Thirty years have passed since their marriage crumbled under the weight of Johan's infidelity and Marianne's shaky sense of self, and as predicted, she's emerged from the matrimonial ruins a stronger, wiser woman. Both her daughters are grown — one lives in Australia with her lawyer husband, while a degenerative brain disease has left the other confined to a hospital — and Marianne continues to practice family law. Johan's faltering career as a university professor, meanwhile, continued its steady decline until the death of an elderly aunt turned Johan into a rich, 83-year-old retiree with an isolated estate in the Swedish countryside near Orsa. Neither time nor good fortune has mellowed his cantankerousness, and with no one else to torment, Johan is now doing his best to make his 61-year-old son, Henrik (Borje Ahlstedt), a widowed professor of music, absolutely miserable. Henrik, who's taken up residence in the lake house on Johan's property, is entirely devoted to grooming his pretty 19-year-old daughter, Karin (Julia Dufvenius), to be a solo cellist, though Karin secretly yearns for the community found in a large orchestra. Henrik's determination — intensified by a suffocating, unnatural intimacy that borders on incest — and Karin's growing sense of independence threaten their relationship, and Johan is quick to jump into the breach by working against Henrik's carefully laid plans for his daughter's future. Into this filial snake pit comes Marianne who, driven by an inexplicable need to see Johan after all this time, shows up for an extended visit. She immediately bonds with Karin but remains wary of Johan and soon uncovers an ugly side to Henrik, proving the old adage about fruit never falling far from the tree. Time, it seems, has also done little to mellow Bergman. The same tough, existential questions he refused to answer after all the on-screen agonies of SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE are still with him. Was Johan right when he asserted that love is a worthless delusion incapable of saving us from terrifying loneliness? Not one to have it both ways, Bergman seems to suggest that however temporary, it's the brief moments of human contact that make life bearable, and their power and sweetness are inextricably linked to their impermanence. (In Swedish, with English subtitles.)

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