Readers expecting me to compare Ingmar Bergman’s “Saraband” to his previous masterpieces “Scenes from a Marriage” and “The Seventh Seal” will be disappointed to learn that I have not seen those movies. I could compare them anyway, but I don’t think that would do either of us any good.
Bergman belongs to a class of filmmakers who are hailed as brilliant even by people who have never actually seen their movies. Fellini is in that class, too, and so are the French New Wave directors like Truffaut and Godard, and maybe Hitchcock’s in there, too (you’d be surprised how many people have never seen a Hitchcock movie).
This isn’t to say these filmmakers aren’t brilliant, only that there’s no sense in calling people geniuses if your only evidence of it is that other people call them that.
So my review of “Saraband,” which is growing shorter the more time I waste in this preface, is of “Saraband” only, and will only address the question of whether you should go see it. I probably would compare it to Bergman’s previous films if I had a better knowledge of them, as I do like to sound smart, but such is not the case.
It is a sequel of sorts to Bergman’s 1973 film “Scenes from a Marriage,” and as much time has passed in “Saraband” as in real life. In the prologue, Marianne (Liv Ullmann) tells us she has decided to visit her ex-husband Johan (Erland Josephson), whom she has not seen in 30 years, at his home in the country. Marianne is 63 now, and Johan is 86. Neither of them has an abundance of time left. Whatever needs to be said needs to be said now.
Of course, that may be nothing. When the two reunite, comfortably and as two old friends might do, they remember that they kept in touch for a while after their divorce but then stopped calling each other — because they had nothing to talk about.
Their own relationship is already settled. Whatever it has been for the past 30 years, it will continue to be now. What demands their attention is Johan’s son Henrik (Borje Ahlstedt), who is about Marianne’s age (from a previous marriage, of course) and who lives in a nearby cottage with his own 19-year-old daughter Karin (Julia Dufvenius).
Henrik and Johan hate each other, a fact made more difficult by Henrik’s dependence on his father for money. Karin is frightened of her overly affectionate father, who teaches her the cello and who shares a bed with her. Marianne is delighted by her new-found step-granddaughter and sympathetic to Henrik, whose wife died two years earlier.
Bergman presents the film in 10 chapters, each featuring exactly two of the four characters, with all six possible combinations (Johan and Karin, Karin and Henrik, etc.) eventually represented. The dialogue is plentiful, and the characters frequently give long speeches, yet the quartet of expert actors ensure it is never tiresome, that it does not feel “wordy.”
Ullmann and Erland Josephson are old Bergman pros and have evidently learned, over the decades, how to act the roles he assigns them naturally and flawlessly. Ullmann speaks to the camera directly a few times — she’s the only one to do so — and you can see her blue eyes twinkling, her pretty smile changing to express Marianne’s mood. Josephson, meanwhile, has old, sad-looking eyes, the eyes of a man who has lived life and is tired. Together they are a wonderfully real pair, two old souls whose marriage fell apart but who soldiered on in spite of it.
B (2 hrs.; Swedish with subtitles; )