July 22, 2005


Directed by Ingmar Bergman Starring Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

Forget Revenge of the Sith. Here at last is the summer movie-sequel event for cinema-studies academia set: Saraband picks up the story where 1973 Swedish-miniseries-turned-international-arthouse-phenomenon Scenes from a Marriage left off. It's also likely the final offering from 87-year-old Ingmar Bergman, a cinematic giant with high-profile followers like Woody Allen. Bergman has spent the past two decades only writing scripts and directing for television. First broadcast in Sweden in 2003, Saraband certainly fits the auteur's late-career pattern. A concerto of Soren Kierkegaard citations, Bach and Hindemith compositions and Bergman's staple emotional entanglements, the project is cause for celebration amongst cinephiles.

Last time we saw divorced couple Marianne and Johan - respectively played by Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson - they rekindled a secret fling while unsatisfactorily remarried to other people. Directly addressing the camera for the first time, Marianne reports that she hasn't seen Johan for three decades since he took up yet another affair. For no reason, she now decides to visit him at his Orsa countryside estate. Upon arrival, she wakes him from a nap with a kiss. They soon embrace and hold hands. If Scenes means anything to you, this sentimental moment should induce some tears.

The other nine chapters in Saraband are another matter entirely. The emphasis shifts to the bitterly estranged relationship between Johan and his son Henrik (Börje Ahlstedt) from a previous marriage, as well as the codependent bond between Henrik and daughter Karin (Julia Dufvenius). Jobless, penniless and staying rent-free in his father's guesthouse, Henrik has never recovered from his wife's death two years earlier. The only thing he's got going is providing cello lessons to Karin, but that may soon end as she contemplates enrolling in a conservatory.

As its title suggests, this is a stately court dance of a film. Loosely following the rhythm of its prequel, it orchestrates a series of chamber-piece duets and solos riffing off emotional discord. But it's unclear why Bergman would want to briefly revisit Scenes only to use it as groundwork, especially when the new material never reaches the powerful crescendo of its predecessor. While it's probably unfair to compare Saraband to an imitation like Allen's Interiors (as Michael Atkinson of The Village Voice did), Bergman's seemingly disingenuous effort to draw parallels between Marianne and Johan's relationship and Karin and Henrik's does at times make it feel like he is just lazily milking his reputation. Movements that resonate here sound somewhat derivative, while there are some glaring false notes such as the erotic tension between father and daughter. Moments of profundity – like Johan musing "I've ransacked my past, now I have the answer sheet" – are too rare.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.