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CANNES REVIEW: Ullman’s “Faithless,” It’s Bergman

CANNES REVIEW: Ullman's "Faithless," It's Bergman

CANNES REVIEW: Ullman's "Faithless," It's Bergman

Patrick Z. McGavin

(indieWIRE/5.19.2000) — Arguably the world’s finest living director, Ingmar
hasn’t directed a theatrical feature since the
1985 “After the Rehearsal,” preferring to direct
theater and write scripts. His voice lives on
emphatically in the works of his key collaborators.
Liv Ullmann‘s new Cannes competition drama “Faithless
is the most recent film adaptation from a brilliant,
unnerving Bergman script, following her own 1996
Private Confessions,” Daniel Bergman‘s 1993 “Sunday’s
” and Billie August‘s 1992 “The Best

The key Bergman themes are studded all over these
works — the emotional fragility of modern existence,
loss and separation, regret and reconciliation —
though the intensely autobiographical shadings yield
deeper and more meaningful personal relevance. In
turn this opens up essential questions about form and
content, not to mention it becomes a kind of
meditation on the relationship of Bergman to his art
and imagination. The three previous scripts rummaged
his conflicted and psychologically resonant family
history to create probing, intelligent discussions of
human relations.

“Faithless” is also Bergman’s direct response to an
event from his past, but this time it isn’t filtered
through the perspective of his parents but is taken
from his own experience. The beauty and wonder of
“Faithless” is the extent it lives and breathes in its
own beautifully detailed, emotionally acute existence.
Wondering about truth and representation, or the real
life participants only takes away from the steely
intelligence and revealing emotional interactions of
the movie. Erland Josephson is “Bergman,” a writer
who works and lives on an isolated island, haunted by
a “voice,” of an event from his past.

The writer transmutes that “voice” into the shape of a
beautiful, free thinker, Marianne (Lenora Endre), the
wife of a prominent conductor, Markus (Tomas Hanzon)
and the mother of their nine-year-old daughter.
Markus’ best friend, David (Krister Henricksson), a
divorced, independent, is a near permanent part of
their family, a storyteller of grace and passion.
With Markus away on tour, he reveals his long
suppressed attraction to Marianne. The revelation
initially catchers her by surprise until she considers
immediately the allure and excitement of their furtive

Their affair is initiated during Marianne’s extended
visit to Paris. Liberated by the sudden and
unrestricted forms of sexual expression, Marianne
achieves a greater degree of self-realization and
freedom she never imagined. But it comes at a
terrible price. David’s violent mood changes and
tendency to possess or control her threaten this once
ideal relationship. Bergman’s script is a brilliant
model of exposition and emotional restraint,
withholding or even privileging information, insight
and follow-through until the last possible moment.

Marianne is naturally concerned about David’s less
savory human characteristics but with the intensity of
his attention, the rapt gaze, the consuming attention,
she is easy prey to his maneuvers. Once the action
returns to Sweden, the idyll is soon shattered when
David confronts them at their rendezvous. He
surprises them that he has known of their relationship
since it began, before they left for Paris, setting in
motion a devastating series of reversals and
revelations. Even as the story expands — David
initiates divorce proceedings and a custody battle —
the film’s emotional concentration is also heightened.

Ullmann demonstrates a trenchant, understated feel for
character and a superb handling of the physical and
emotional process of actors. Sven Nykvist, the great
cinematographer who shot “Private Confessions,” was
ill and not able to work on the film. Working with
Billie August‘s director of photography, Jorgen
, Ullmann finds the perfect visual corollary to
Bergman’s language. The direct, concentrated visual
strategies place full weight and freedom on the
actors. The range of their expressions, reflections,
even distortions, creates a deeply recognizable set of
actions and movements from the actors that elevates
the tension.

The work of the three lead actors is uniformly
excellent. But the highest praise is reserved for
Endore, a member of the celebrated Bergman repertory
who was featured in his television film “In the
Presence of a Clown
.” She registers the full range,
coiled anguish to disbelief, fury and breakdown. The
scenes in which Josephson’s Bergman imagines her sitting
beside him have a controlled, psychologically
complicated intensity that commands attention and
respect. In particular there is a late sequence in
which she almost clinically details a sexual incident
involving her and Markus that is frightening,
devastating and almost unbearably tense.

The film’s last act is both surprising and lucid;
Bergman and Ullmann don’t work at any easy
resolutions. This is a movie whose ultimate subject
is emotional consequence. It offers no easy
solutions, declarative summaries or easily declared
conclusion. Having said that, the movie isn’t
perfect. The 155-minute running time seems a bit
protracted at times. Ullmann has great instincts for
a director, but if there’s a weakness, she hasn’t
completely proven she has a clearly articulated
personality of her own. Then again Ullmann has her
own highly charged personal and professional
association of Bergman, aspects of which no doubt
bring additional nuances and subtexts to this work.
At a time when few films seem to have anything
important to say about truthful, recognizably human
emotional interaction, “Faithless” turns public
spectacle into a very private anguish.

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