East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Saraband: Son of a bad man [movie note]

Saraband isn't the first time that Ingmar Bergman has emotionally retarded his characters to produce conflict, conjuring lives with few attachments. You might think this would make the relationships that do exist more intense - certainly the case with father and daughter cellists Henrik (Börje Ahlstedt) and Karin (Julia Dufvenius), while it drives Marianne (Liv Ullmann) to seek out her ex Johan (Erland Josephson), having not seen him for thirty years. On the other hand, Johan has few attachments because he's a prick, and being a prick means those attachments are necessarily loose - even with Karin, whom he adores as much as he hates Henrik, his son.

The movie isn't realistic because most of us have some say in the way we play relationships, and we aren't obstinate or incompetent enough to place ourselves in such hopeless positions. That it works as an evocation of difficult communication and terrifying loneliness is partly thanks to the actors, but is also due to Bergman's sense of structure, so much more crucial to his art than his ballyhooed eye. The characters play duets, often not dialogues but interrupted monologues for that extra-isolated feeling, and though some fail (a compelling reason for Karin to pour her heart out to Marianne is never found), the ones that succeed wipe them out. As Bergman's designated alternate, Johan gets the best material, whether in cruel bastard mode with Henrik, playing Lear to Karin, or using a more complex mix of spite and insecurity with Marianne. It's prime Bergman - still the king of making moderate insights visceral.


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