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Saraband

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Sweden| 2003. English subtitles. Colour. Digital video. 107 min.


Ingmar Bergman has declared that this intense chamber drama, which he shot for Swedish TV at the age of 85, is to be his last work for the screen. If that’s so, you can hardly accuse the Swedish master of mellowing with age. Taking up again with the characters portrayed in 1973’s Scenes From a Marriage, here we find Liv Ullmann acting on a whim and revisiting her ex-husband Erland Josephson for the first time in years. On arrival at his remote country cabin, she soon finds herself surveying not only the wreckage of their past together, but the emotional carnage of Josephson’s vituperative relationship with his son (a suitably crumpled Borje Alstedt), who’s barely holding it together after losing his wife to cancer. Indeed, the generational conflict extends to his 19-year-old granddaughter (Julia Dufvenius), a promising music student whose future studies become the subject of a power struggle between her father and grandfather.
Titled after the stately baroque dance movement of a Bach cello suite, the litany of backbiting and recrimination unfolds in ten movements as a series of duets for these impeccable performers, and although the film’s patriarchal power games and suffering-yet-wise female characterisation breaks no new thematic ground when set against the film-maker’s past achievements, its blast of excoriating emotions, concentrated close-ups and contemplative classical music will come as a nostalgic balm to arthouse veterans raised on the Bergman style. Old-fashioned perhaps, self-conscious maybe, but this portrait of the pain apparently sensitive and intelligent individuals persist in inflicting on one another delivers a welcome fix of Scandinavian gloom in a surprisingly concentrated dose. It’s an authentic, worthy closer to a brilliant career.

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