God in Bergman films may be silent (or dead, or just sleeping), but the Scandinavian god of the arthouse will not go quietly. If the wondrous Fanny and Alexander was the previous candidate for his Last Movie, Saraband offers an alternate ending, refocusing upon his most devastating mode of psychodrama, with a twinge of hope.
It is quite a literal return, too, for Saraband features the two characters whose relationship disintegrated in 1973’s Scenes From a Marriage. Years later, Marianne (Liv Ullman) visits Johan (Erland Josephson) on his remote rural estate (a self-proclaimed “hell”); his recently widowed son Henrik lives in another cottage with daughter and cello pupil Karin.
“Live” is perhaps the wrong word where “seethe in codependent states of love, hatred, and spiritual anxiety” will do. In 13 chapters, Johan humiliates Henrik, Karin agonizes over abandoning her father, and Marianne alights delicately upon her own memories.
Saraband opens with Marianne presiding over a table full of photographs, speaking to the camera — a momentary degree of artifice as tentative as her first approach to Johan asleep on a deck. Like these photographs, the film is in perpetual, intense dialogue — between emotions and shadows of emotions, between time and its experience as living memory, and in the repetitions (and recognitions) of the relationships.
Shot in DV, Saraband lacks the crisp grammar of Bergman’s best images, yet the fuzzier glow suits the rapport between Marianne and Karin, or Johan’s reluctant weakness. Regardless, it is a true summer break, for at last we youngsters can say, “Did you see the new Bergman?”
Opens July 8