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Sweden 2003
Directed by
Ingmar Bergman
107 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Bergman’s final film was made for television when he was 85 years old. It is a marvellously excoriating work, and a fitting end-note to a director who has spent his life demonstrating the impossibilities of human happiness.

Returning to his 1973 film, Scenes From A Marriage, in which Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson played Marianne and Johan, he reunites them here some thirty years later for a final reflection on the course of their lives. Now long divorced, one of their daughters has gone to Australia, the other, lives in catatonic suspension in nursing. Out of wistful nostalgia Marianne comes unexpectedly to visit the 80 year-old Johan in his forest hideaway.  He owns a nearby cottage which is occupied by his 61-year-old son, Henrik (Borje Ahlstedt), and the latter’s 19-year-old daughter, Karin (Julia Dufvenius).

This is classic Bergman territory -  death and misery are the order of the day with the father and son locked in an bitterly hateful relationship of which Karin is a pawn, she in turn caught in the trap of her own intense (and perhaps quasi-incestuous) relationship with her own father who is in turn flagellating himself over the relatively recent death of his apparently angelic wife, Anna, Karin's mother. Marianne is a resigned witness to all of this.

How much of this is autobiographical I do not know but one can assume a considerable proportion, even if artistically heightened (Bergman eventually sequestered himself on his island of Fårö and Ullmann was also Bergman's lover and had a daughter with him) but what holds one's attention in a somewhat ghoulish fashion is Bergman's unflinching representation of the Sartrean dictum that “hell is other people”. As a dispassionate observer (the film opens with her organising photographs) Ullmann has less to do than the other three actors which is a pity but Dufvenius does a fine job amongst what must have been a somewhat intimidating roster of veterans although her inability to produce tears in the more emotive scenes is a bit of a shortcoming given Bergman's fondness for close-ups

Bergman overplays his hand with devices such as superimposing a photograph of Anna and a penultimate scene that borders on the risible when Johan comes to Marianne late at night to tell her that he is suffering from "angst' as if it was angina but that is the only laugh that Swedish television audiences would have had from this unrelentingly portrayal of the failure of love to do more than briefly assuage the pain of living.




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