SARABAND (Ingmar Bergman). 107 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (July 22). For venues and times, see Movies, page 80. Rating: NNNN
Looking at Ingmar Bergman's Scenes From A Marriage (1973), recently re-released (along with its original TV miniseries version) in a Criterion three-disc DVD set, you can see its influence on North American culture. The film's devastating portrait of a bourgeois couple's disintegrating marriage resonates in everything from Kramer Vs. Kramer and Shoot The Moon to the fiction of Alice Munro.
So audiences will bring a lot of emotional baggage to Saraband , which reunites the earlier film's two main characters, Marianne ( Liv Ullmann ) and Johan ( Erland Josephson ). It's been 30 years since they've seen each other, and watching the two onscreen - faces deeply lined (no plastic surgery here!), bodies giving out - can be deeply affecting.
The wealthy Johan, now in his 80s, is living amidst his books in the deeply forested province of Dalarna. Nearby are his son from an earlier marriage, Henrik ( Börje Ahlstedt ), and Henrik's daughter, Karin ( Julia Dufvenius ). All three of them are grieving the death of Henrik's wife, Anna. Johan and Henrik have never got along, and now Henrik fears that Karin - a music prodigy with whom he shares a bed (!) - will soon leave, too.
Marianne enters this dysfunctional extended family and helps each of its members out, but never in a predictable way. She and Johan barely speak to each other - it's as if everything's been said - and yet she sees their earlier resentments and power struggles playing out in the younger generation.
Bergman, now in his 80s, has lost none of his uncompromising psychological insight. Some scenes are difficult to watch because they're so filled with hate. Others - such as one in which the two older actors, naked and shrivelled, join each other for a moment of grace under the covers - are tender in their acceptance of human folly and frailty.
This isn't the strongest work in Bergman's oeuvre, but it's a lovely, quiet coda to a major career.