Review by Ed Nguyen
Liv Ullman, Erland Josephson, Börje Ahlstedt, Julia Dufvenius
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Audio: Swedish 2.0 Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English, French, Portuguese
Video: Color, 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen
Studio: Sony Pictures
Features: The Making of Saraband, trailers
Length: 112 minutes
Release Date: January 10, 2006
people are together, and then they part ways and talk on the phone, and finally
has a nation's entire film industry been as defined by one man as Swedish cinema
has been by Ingmar Bergman. For
many filmgoers, Bergman is the very personification of Swedish cinema and has
been for well over a half-century. The
list of supreme masterpieces crafted by this director - The Seventh Seal, Wild
Strawberries, Persona, Fanny
and Alexander, Cries and Whispers,
to name but a very few - is quite without peer among contemporary filmmakers.
over the years did not limit his prodigious output to the cinema, either.
He was an established stage director and later in his career also did
work for Swedish television, too. In
fact, one of Bergman's greatest triumphs, 1973's Scenes
from a Marriage, was created originally for Swedish television.
Approximately five hours in length, the miniseries was then re-edited for
length and distributed theatrically to great international and critical acclaim.
The film garnered numerous awards, and it also served to establish
leading lady Liv Ullman as one of the era's finest actresses.
from a Marriage
chronicled the slow disintegration of a seemingly happy union between married
couple Marianne and Johan. Episodic
in nature, the film flowed from marital bliss to anguished arguments, adultery,
and eventual divorce. Yet, the
film's intimate finale offered the sort of poignant reconciliation and mutual
understanding that only age and a lifetime of bittersweet experiences can offer.
The friendship between both characters endured, a testimony to the
strength of an emotional union that even a traumatic break-up or personal
differences could not entirely dispel.
Saraband, Ingmar Bergman re-visits the
characters of Marianne and Johan thirty years after their separation.
For many years, Marianne and Johan have had no contact with one another.
But with the passage of time and perhaps an awareness of the increasingly
tenuous grasp on life in her old age, Marianne decides one day to visit her
former husband. She does not
entirely understand why she does so, only that somehow she senses that Johan is
years have been gentler for Marianne than for Johan, although neither has been
without personal hardships. Johan,
now elderly and weary, is at an age when he should be carefree to contemplate
his life's accomplishments in his remaining days, yet he has been confronted
with a delicate family crisis involving his grown son Henrik and his
nineteen-year-old granddaughter Karin. Henrik
and Karin live in a nearby country cottage, and while Karin remains dear to
Johan's heart, a particularly painful animosity exists between Johan and his own
son, a deep emotional scar that hinders any possible reconciliation between the
men even now in the autumn of their lives.
When Marianne visits Johan at his country retreat in the waning days of
the late summer, she bears witness to the fragile relationships which exist in
Scenes from a Marriage focused
primarily upon Marianne and Johan, Saraband
has four principal characters, all of whom are afforded equal screen development
time. The first and last person we
see in the film is Marianne, yet the film's focal character is arguably Johan's
granddaughter Karin. She is at a
vulnerable stage in her young life, torn between devotion to her father
(especially with his wife's recent death still haunting him) and a desire to
develop her budding musical talents as a cellist.
Should she audition for a prestigious conservatory, knowing that to
abandon her father now would be to sentence the lonely and still heart-broken
man to a certain death, spiritually and emotionally?
Or, should she remain by his side, essentially sacrificing her own
personal aspirations to serve as a surrogate to her mother's memories?
explores many aspects of the family dynamics - for instance, the continuing
friendship between Marianne and Johan or the strained relationship between Johan
and his son Henrik, as compared to the tenderness between Johan and his
granddaughter. In fact, throughout Saraband, at no point are more than two characters on-screen at the
same time. By this technique,
Bergman allows the characters greater scope to develop, either through intimate
one-on-one conversations, asides, or soliloquies. As such, Saraband
is essentially a character-driven film that draws significantly from Bergman's
own stage and theatrical directorial experience.
Saraband is even composed as a
series of small vignettes divided among ten chapters, with Marianne appearing in
the prologue and epilogue sequences that bookend the encounters and developing
circumstances in the film.
is a secret fifth character in the film, one who plays a key role yet is never
seen beyond old photographs. She is
Anna, Henrik's former beloved wife and Karin's mother.
The memory of Anna lingers in Henrik's waking moments and strongly
influences his actions, even years after her death from cancer.
Loving vestiges of the tenderness and grace that her life brought to the
family are so strongly suggested that in the aftermath of her death, Johan's
family has become emotionally lost.
"presence" continues to haunt the very premises and lives of those
beloved who have survived her. While
Saraband is certainly not a ghost
story (aside from doors which appear to swing of their own accord), Bergman
allows the "presence" of this fifth character to guide the eventual
outcome of the film, particularly in how Karin resolves her emotional dilemma
and how Marianne herself applies what she has learned from observing Johan's
family to her own troubled daughter.
the performances in Saraband are quite
stellar, from Dufvenius's conflicted Karin to Ahlstedt's broken Henrik to
Josephson's malcontented Johan to Ullman's introspective Marianne.
Saraband is also a
self-contained film, powerful and life-affirming even for viewers who have not
previously seen Scenes from a Marriage.
a director, Bergman represents a true dying breed in cinema - an introspective,
art-house filmmaker. His films
challenge viewers on a metaphysical and spiritual level as well as visually, and
Bergman's gifts as a screenwriter would shame many a filmmaker today.
Over his career, Bergman's favorite themes have been interpersonal
relationships, difficult family dynamics, and the search for a higher meaning or
purpose in life (or death); not surprisingly, all of these themes are explored
in Saraband, Bergman's confessed final
provides a fine coda to the superb Scenes
from a Marriage. However, it is
merely the latest masterpiece from one of cinema's rarest and most illustrious
directors. Although Saraband
arrives in the twilight of Ingmar Bergman's career, the film serves to remain us
that age and long life have only enhanced, not diminished, the director's
skills. Saraband may be a small and intimate film, but its emotional impact
is as profound as that of any of the director's more famous works.
was shot on digital video and consequently, the picture is quite sharp and
crystal clear. The images maintain
a richly film-like quality, with natural skin tones and alluring colors. The bit transfer rate averages around seven Mbps.
is comprised mostly of dialogue, although Bergman also samples several J. S.
Bach compositions, particularly the fifth saraband from Bach's Cello Suite No. 5
in C minor. The audio mix is not
aggressive but always remains pleasant and suitably strong as required (mainly
in interludes during which only music is heard).
are previews for the ensemble film Heights
(with Elizabeth Banks), the offbeat comedy Thumbsucker
(with Keanu Reeves and Tilda Swinton), and The
Beautiful Country, about the forgotten Vietnamese offspring of American
only other bonus is a fine making-of documentary (44 min.) for Saraband. Bergman himself is prominently featured as he explains the
process involved in bringing the project to fruition. For an octogenarian, Bergman is amazingly spry, energetic,
and full of fun, the generally somber nature of his films notwithstanding.
Admirers of Ingmar Bergman's films will embrace this documentary as a
rare opportunity to witness the master director at work.
Glimpses of rehearsals, costume tests, scene preparations, and alternate
takes can be seen. Enjoy these
images, for we may likely never see another new Ingmar Bergman film again.
TRIVIA: The portraits of Anna shown
in Saraband were actually those of
Ingmar Bergman's late wife, Ingrid Von Rosen, who herself died of cancer in