Four years ago, the remaining master filmmaker of the 20th Century, Ingmar Bergman, released a made-for-television film, Saraband. It was unanimously acclaimed and cited as the 'coda' work to his long, creative career. Today, in ill heath and 89 years old, it is apparently true.
Saraband is a sequel of sorts to Bergman's 1973 Scenes From A Marriage. It features the extraordinary actors, Liv Ullman and Erland Josephson, creating the same characters from the prior film. And it adds a marvelous performance by Börje Ahlstedt. In short, the acting is superb.
The film has Bergman's characteristic master's editing style—in-camera, long takes, surprising jumps. It suffers because Bergman's long-time collaborator, the artist Sven Nykvist was no longer at his side creating the cinemaphotography, and shot for television on digital video all of the nuance and rich-color texture of film is missing. But Saraband has one treasure that these deficiencies cannot diminish. It has the writing—Bergman's writing.
He was mentored by the great Swedish theatre and film director, Alf Sjöberg, who conquered the "flashback" barrier in 1951 in his classic, Miss Julie. Bergman wrote for Sjöberg, learned from him, and went on to create his masterpieces both on stage and in film. Above his brilliance as a theatre and film director is Bergman's writing. He is an incomparable playwright and screenwriter.
Saraband is not a theatre piece adapted to cinema. It is a film—with a filmmaker's vision and rich visual skills. The gift it offers is a rare one today: words, language that actors can dive into as if it were a pool of music. Show me a film among all of the shit that is produced in Hollywood and, frankly, the rest of the world where the words comprise a rich tapestry within which to weave the images . Only here and there—perhaps one by Carlos Saura, perhaps another by Alan Rudolph. We live in the age of Mamet and teen-marketing, where grunts and valley-speak tax film actors who have tiny voices and rarely have the skill to portray emotions and responses when the words are absent.
At least we have the Kubricks, the Kurosawas, the Leans and... the Bergmans to calm the yearning and whisper hope for the future.