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'Faithless': Reaffirming Bergman's Vision

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 2, 2001


    'Faithless' Lena Endre and Krister Henriksson in "Faithless."
(Samuel Goldwyn Films)
Just when you thought Ingmar Bergman had written his final screenplay, he comes up with another autumnal work about emotional torment.

You can always count on the old man to put your soul through the grinder.

"Faithless," his latest (or most recent latest) script, is more of an absorbing Bergman variation than a classic unto itself. The film touches upon the same psychological and moral issues he addressed in such 1970s classics as "Cries and Whispers" and "Scenes From a Marriage." Only, things have become a little darker. Think of "Faithless," then, as a well-wrought, dark postscript that echoes his past, brilliant work but doesn't necessarily eclipse it.

Director Liv Ullmann's acquiescence to Bergman's vision makes his presence seem all-powerful, though. As always (with Bergman-scripted or -directed films), the roles (full of lengthy, often tormented monologues) are written for emotionally raw performances. And raw is what you get from Erland Josephson (who co-starred with Ullmann in the 1973 "Scenes From a Marriage") and Lena Endre. Josephson plays a certain film director named Bergman, while Endre literally plays a fictional character.

Bergman, an aging film artist who lives on a bleak but beautiful island, is sitting down to write his latest script when he gets a visit from Marianne, an actor he knows.

As the two discuss Bergman's project, which is about a bitter, personal experience of Bergman's from the past, Marianne becomes the character he has in mind. Bergman finds himself talking directly with his fantasy character, as embodied by Marianne.

Their conversation is punctuated with extended scenes from the story-within-a-story – in other words, the story that Bergman is writing in his head.

In this inner drama, Marianne is Marianne Vogler, a successful actor married to Markus (Thomas Hanzon), a successful music conductor who travels around the world. They have a preteen daughter named Isabelle, to whom they are devoted. But Marianne spends more time with her and has the closer bond.

But on a solo trip to Paris, Marianne allows friendship to become passion with David (Krister Henriksson), a family friend and a film director known for his philandering. This character seems to be Bergman's alter ego. Markus finds out about their liaison and confronts them. And the ugliness begins.

What's best about "Faithless" is its honesty, its lack of desire to ingratiate itself with the audience. Scriptwriter Bergman has stripped away all artifice and self-imposed discretion to directly confront something in his past. And it's gratifying to see him reassert himself, particularly in a world where cinematic auteurs and their "visions" have become the equivalent of dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum.

Time seems to have passed him by, but there's life in Bergman yet – even though it's something of an emotional ordeal to experience and appreciate. But that was always Bergman's way: to render suffering as it really works, between people, between lovers and family, between friends, or simply within the troubled recesses of the mind. It's all about darkness, perhaps. But it's also about the illumination of his insight.

"Faithless" (Unrated, 142 minutes) – In Swedish with subtitles. Contains nudity, sexual scenes and minor assault of a woman.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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