BluRay/DVD Reviews

SARABAND

By • Jan 10th, 2006 •

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SONY Pictures Classics

THE GIFT OF IGGY:

His films are forever embedded into my heart and soul.

Their beauty. Majesty. Depth. Vision. Courage. Humanity.

Ingmar Bergman.

My god, the mere act of typing his name gives my entire being goosebumps.

So much has been written and said about this grand master of the cinema (by some of the world’s greatest critics, and by the man himself) that my fingers tremble with apprehension and humility knowing that these very words I’m writing will now be added to that stock and stall.

In my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d ever get the chance to actually review the latest Bergman film simply because, after 1985’s FANNY & ALEXANDER, there was never again supposed to BE another “latest Bergman film.”

Yet, here it is. This wonderful gift called SARABAND. It exists. It was made.

And it is another Bergman masterpiece.

I know…with an intro like this, the whole idea of journalistic objectivity gets thrown out the window. Well, let it fly! I simply cannot approach any critical discussion of Bergman with the slightest degree of personal removal. This man’s films have literally changed the way I look at this thing we call “life.” If anyone were to ask me what are some of the reasons why I love being alive, I’d put the words “The Films Of Ingmar Bergman” at the almost tippy-top of that list.

Suffice to say that when it comes to Bergman and his oeuvre, those who know, know. Those who don’t know, I just feel sorry for.

THE RETURN OF IGGY:

For me, one of the true delights of SARABAND is the mere fact that it exists at all.
I didn’t know it was coming! I found out about it one day when I saw the poster while standing in the lobby of the Cinema Arts Centre, the local art movie house I often frequent in Huntington, Long Island. My goodness me…there they were…the great Erland Josephson and Liv Ullman…the quintessential Bergman performers…the stars of his SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE…standing next to each other, arm in arm, head to head, in a semi-mournful, yet also comforting embrace. Directly above their heads in large red letters…”SARABAND”…and below it…”An Ingmar Bergman Film.”

WHAT??? HUH??? BE STILL MY HEART!!! HUMINA! HUMINA! HUMINA!

A NEW Bergman film!!! Jesus, he’s gotta be in his mid-eighties!!! Who’d a-thunk it? It was my understanding that ol’ Iggy felt he’d said all he wanted to on celluloid and was devoting the rest of his remaining artistic life to the theater and books of self-reflection. (Oh…by the way…I cannot recommend highly enough Bergman’s two books about his life and work, IMAGES (his films) and THE MAGIC LANTERN (his life)…they are remarkable.) I guess the ol’ muse grabbed him by the gonads and called him to the cameras for one last fling.

And why not? I remember with great delight the feeling of joy when, at the age of 75, Akira Kurosawa gave us the majesty that is RAN. Not to mention the fact that he made THREE more films after THAT! Does it not give us all hope when we see great works of art still being created by the masters, well into their 7th and 8th decades? It just doesn’t get any more life affirming than that.

After a bit of research, I learned that SARABAND was a sequel of sorts to SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, picking up the story thirty years after the divorce of the two main characters. How cool is that? My mind was all a flutter with the story possibilities such a scenario could create. Of course, what made it all the more exciting was the fact that after almost 20 years of cinematic silence, Bergman was about to let his voice be heard again…a voice that would be adding whatever he himself had learned in the 20 years he had cinematically been absent from our lives. What was Iggy bringing to the table now? What would he be teaching us about ourselves?

THE STYLE OF IGGY:

From the moment you hear the first Bach musical notes sublimely emanating from a Cello on the soundtrack, you know you’re in Bergmanland. I couldn’t believe how taken I was by this recognition…this instant sense of being in his cinematic world.
It was emotionally devastating for me. “My god, he’s back. Thank you! Thank you!”

SARABAND is a story about regret, lost chances, selfishness and greed. It is told through four major characters. The film is essentially a ten-act play (no surprise from this greatest of theater directors) in which there are no more than two characters per act. Each act/vignette begins with a black screen, the sounds of a cello, and an epitaph designed to help set the emotional mood for what we are about to witness. The film essentially deals with the reunion between the characters of Marianne (Ullman) and Johan (Josephson), (who Bergman fans already know from SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE, although knowledge of that film is not necessary to enjoy this one) and the relationship between Johan and his hated son Henrik (Borje Ahlstedt), as well as Henrik’s obsessive relationship with his nineteen-year old daughter Karin (Julia Dufvenius). The way in which all four of these characters interlock with each other is pure Bergman. It is one of the films great delights to see these actors play off each other using what can only be described as that one of a kind, highly stylized and totally intense Bergmanesque cinema acting technique. Since the camera only has two characters to look at in each scene, we get to examine every facial tick, every pore, every breath of these superb actors as they battle with each other in a macabre dance of family dysfunction, grief and turmoil.

IGGY PLOT POINTS:

For reasons even she herself cannot explain, Marianne is compulsively drawn towards wanting to see her ex-husband again after thirty years. When she visits him, she not only becomes a part of Johan’s life again, but the life of his granddaughter, a gifted cellist, who lives in a house on Johan’s country estate with her father Henrik, Johan’s son, who is her musical teacher, mentor and tormentor.

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT, IGGY?

So, what was he finally trying to say? What drove him, after 20 years, to come back to us? Perhaps SARABAND is a message about appreciating what you have in life, and cherishing it. Maybe it’s about how regret can be so soul crushing; we should do our best to avoid creating situations in life where regret may leer its ugly head. Maybe he was just trying to say that no matter how long we live, human beings will never really have it all figured out, this thing called life…and perhaps we never will.

Message or no message, what does it matter? SARABAND is ours now. Ours to cherish, absorb, think about and enjoy for as long as we are deemed worthy to exist by whatever powers that be…if any. I think even Ingmar would appreciate that kind of positive thinking.


Cast:
Liv Ullman: Marianne
Erkand Josephson: Johan
Borje Ahlstedt: Henrik
Julia Dufvenius: Karin
Gunnel Fred: Martha

Credits:
Written & Directed by: Ingmar Bergman
Producers: Pia Ehrnvall
Editor: Sylvia Ingemarsson
Music: Johann Sebastian Bach, Johannes Brahms, Anton Bruckner
Design: Goran Wassberg

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