Combustible Celluloid
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With: Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, Brje Ahlstedt, Julia Dufvenius, Gunnel Fred
Written by: Ingmar Bergman
Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
MPAA Rating: R for brief nudity, language and a violent image
Language: Swedish with English subtitles
Running Time: 110
Date: 01/12/2003

Saraband (2005)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Scenes from a Divorce

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Ingmar Bergman officially announced his "retirement" back in 1983 with the magnum opus Fanny and Alexander, but continued to work, making television movies and videos (After the Rehearsal), writing screenplays (Faithless) and working in the theater.

His first official feature film in 22 years, likewise, marks his "retirement." But unlike Fanny and Alexander, which was an alternately affectionate and harsh look at childhood, Saraband howls angrily and fearfully at the torments of old age, loss and death.

Revisiting two characters from his 1974 film Scenes from a Marriage, Marianne (Liv Ullmann) decides to visit her ex-husband Johan (Erland Josephson) after some 30-plus years of silence.

Some have called Saraband a sequel, but it's not necessary to have seen Scenes from a Marriage. The drama quickly moves on, as it does in real life, to the younger characters: Johan's estranged son from another marriage Henrik (Börje Ahlstedt) and Henrik's beautiful 19 year-old daughter from another marriage, Karin (Julia Dufvenius).

A talented cellist, Karin has many opportunities to study abroad, but her needy father can't bear to let her go. Henrik loved his late wife, Karin's mother, in an all-encompassing completeness, and after her death, Henrik has transferred that love to his daughter.

In a painful twist, Anna -- seen only in photographs -- is "played" by Bergman's real-life ex-wife who died of cancer. The film's living characters are riddled with insecurities, pain and regret, while Anna is seemingly an angel, whose sole purpose was to make life brighter.

Bergman, who turns 87 this week, is at the top of his game -- and far from mellowing. He wrenches naked, emotional truth from his sequences as easily and as often as other directors use CG effects. Shooting on digital video, the great director uses many of his customary techniques: long, sustained shots and simple backgrounds, and resorting to close-ups only when they really count.

Sometimes Bergman whips up a little flashback, such as Karin running through the woods looking for a quiet place to scream, but sometimes he merely holds steady on the listener's face, probing for their deepest emotional reservoirs.

Essentially, Bergman is a director of ghosts. He finds people in their most intimate moments, brings them face-to-face with their fear and watches the result. He has made many masterworks, but has also refined and improved his art over the years. As a result, Saraband is a great masterpiece, and a true and fitting culmination to a major career.

DVD Details: Sony Pictures Classics has released Saraband on an essential new DVD, complete with a truly amazing 43-minute making-of featurette consisting almost entirely of a still-spry, 84 year-old Bergman bounding around the set. Everyone even remotely interested in movies should see this.

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