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‘Sunday’s Children’ (NR)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 25, 1993

Ingmar Bergman continues to wrestle with his father's ghost in "Sunday's Children," a wistful childhood memoir that he wrote, but that his son Daniel directed. The continuation of a trilogy that includes "Fanny and Alexander" and "Best Intentions," it takes up the story of Bergman's family some eight years after the director was born.

Though smaller in scope than "Best Intentions," which Bille August directed from Bergman's screenplay, the film deals with many of the same issues -- his father's (Thommy Berggren) rigidity, his mother's (Lena Endre) dissatisfaction. That film concerned his parents' turbulent courtship and ended before he had yet left his mother's womb. Here, he is an imaginative child.

"Sunday's Children" is in many ways the proverbial portrait of the young artist, a nostalgic artifact rife with details and influences -- the wild strawberries for dessert and the cook's tall tales. There are memories we'd as soon not know about -- a realistic attack of diarrhea that afflicts little Ingmar, whom everyone calls Pu.

A contemplative blond child, Pu (Henrik Linnros) seems also to be having an early sexual awakening, for the Bergman household is filled not only with fat old relatives, but zaftig maids and bosomy family friends. Pu adores his nanny, Maj (Maria Bolme), who takes him on errands and for walks in the woods.

On one occasion they visit a spot near a stream where a clockmaker committed suicide. A wonderfully scary story within the story emerges when the cook agrees to tell Pu and his older brother, Dag (Jacob Leygraf), why the poor fellow hanged himself. It seems there was a tiny blind woman inside a grandfather's clock, a beguiling but dangerous creature who drove him quite mad upon her release.

Bergman and his son themselves also mess with father time and his children. The story, which eventually narrows its focus to Pu's relationship with his father, moves agilely from the past to the future where an elderly Pu confronts his ailing and senile father. The 1920s melt into the 1960s and back again as Pu tries to sort out his feelings.

Though it's clear that he can never forgive his father for a lifetime of wrongs, he does offer the old man his friendship, albeit restricted to practical matters. Yet he returns again and again to a journey they made that August in a bucolic corner of Sweden. Pu accompanies his father, a stern Lutheran pastor, on a long bicycle, train and ferry journey to a distant parish.

The trip brings out the best and the worst in Henrik Bergman, who is listening kindly to his son's childish questions one minute, then beating him silly the next. His sudden fits of temper, which have been dealt with in other movies, strike as suddenly as the lightning of the summer storm that interrupts their journey. They sit in a barn and watch the rain and Pu, who imagines that it's Judgment Day, is glad for once to be with his father.

"Sunday's Children," glowingly photographed by Tony Forsberg and lovingly directed by Daniel Bergman, probably provokes more questions than it answers. But that after all is the mark of a good movie.

Copyright The Washington Post

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