It only seems necessary that I watch Bergman’s last film seeing as I watched his first film Torment. Released in 2003, Saraband is a sequel to his 1973 film Scenes From a Marriage. I didn’t actually realise that Saraband was a sequel when I first picked it as part of my Bergman diary, but this didn’t stop me from enjoying it. Although I do feel that I would have benefited from seeing the first film.
Saraband was made for Swedish television, but released theatrically in a longer cut outside Sweden. I believe you can tell it’s been made for television in the way it looks, it seems smaller in terms of scale, but there is still some stunning shots of nature. However, it is the central performances that will ultimately take your breath away.
The film brings back the characters of Johan (Erland Josephson) and Marianne (Liv Ullmann) who were once upon a time married to one another. Marianne introduces us to the film, behind a table covered with photographs. She addresses the camera directly, breaking the fourth wall, as she speaks to us, the viewer, like an old friend (and perhaps we are after all this time). She picks one picture up after another; discussing them, some of the photographs make her smile, or elicit a comment, but there is one photograph that gets the most of her attention, her ex-husband Johan.
She reminisces about how they had been more or less happy, and how they’d broken up. This little monologue helps bring us up to speed about what has taken place previously, and I found it to be a nice introduction to these characters and their back story. After remembering her ex-husband, Marianne decides to visit him, which makes for quite a nice and very touching reunion scene.
Johan is undergoing a family crisis with his insolvent and needy son, Henrik (Börje Ahlstedt), and his nineteen year old granddaughter, Karin (Julia Dufvenius). Henrik is begging Johan for an advance on his inheritance so he can buy Karin a Fagnola cello, to make a better impression at her audition. There is something deeply uncomfortable about Henrik and Karin’s relationship, with the two of them sharing a bed, and Henrik beating the young woman if she doesn’t perform to his standards.
Karin and Henrik’s relationship becomes strained when she discovers a letter from her mother (who died) where she expressed her concern over Henrik’s treatment of Karin, and asked him not to be their daughter’s cello teacher. Karin confronts her father, and this results in a breakdown of the family unit, with Marianne being drawn into a struggle for power between Johan and Henrik, and having to take sides between the three of them.
Watching Saraband was a bittersweet experience. It was wonderful seeing Bergman’s last film unfolding on-screen, proving that he still had this unique ability to weave together a moving drama, but at the same time it felt very sad that this was his last film. Saraband is a perfect epilogue to a marvelous career in cinema for Bergman, and it is worth seeking out, I will have to make sure to go back and watch Scenes from a Marriage.
Due to Bergman’s extensive filmography, there are still many films that I can discover. And I will continue to watch more of Ingmar Bergman’s films after this week is over, because now I’ve had a taste of his work, I am addicted!