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‘The Best Intentions’ (NR)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 14, 1992

Ingmar Bergman thaws out his inner child by the light of the magic lantern, shining it back through time on the vulnerable young couple fated to become his parents. Anna and Henrik are a mismatched pair with a flair for the melodramatic whose tormented courtship and troubled early marriage become a romantic epic in "The Best Intentions."

In imagining their story, Bergman seems to have been bound by a line from one of Anna's letters to her future husband: "Perhaps we can find out what this word love entails." The film does just that.

Bergman, who retired from directing after his 1983 "Fanny and Alexander," entrusted this profoundly personal story to Danish director Bille August. It is a harmonious collaboration to which August, the director of the Oscar-winning "Pelle the Conqueror," brings a fittingly nostalgic tone. Set between 1909 and 1918, the film takes place in a quiet, contemplative era distinguished by the ticking of clocks, the clatter of silver spoons and the whisper of turning pages. Even the rabble was reasonably polite when roused against the upper class, to which Anna Akerblom Bergman belonged -- a national strike was underway.

The director's gifted wife, Pernilla August, portrays Anna, the spoiled, stubborn but affectionate darling of the stolidly bourgeois Akerblom household. A capricious and completely charming girl, Anna is immediately drawn to her brother's shy friend, Henrik Bergman (Samuel Froler). The Akerblom family, ruled by the strong-willed Karin (Ghita Norby), opposes Anna's involvement with Henrik, a theology student, because he is a poor and resentful representative of the Swedish lower class. His mother (Mona Malm) also foresees disaster for this ill-matched couple, but young love seldom values the wisdom of old wives.

Their blind infatuation fanned by Karin's campaign to keep them apart, Anna and Henrik enter a rancorous marriage that takes them from the comfort of urban Upsala to the daunting splendor of the northernmost wilderness. Accustomed to deprivation, Henrik, now an assistant pastor in a small mining town, relishes the harsh climate and absence of luxury -- perhaps because Anna is the one who digs the garden, washes the sheets in the icy river and nurses the town's sick and dying. Then their first child is born -- Ingmar's older brother -- and Anna begins to long for the ease of the Akerblom mansion. It doesn't help that Anna now sees Henrik for the insecure, abusive, emotionally stingy prima donna that he is.

Henrik, as weedy as Anna is substantial, would try the patience of a stone much less that of a pampered debutante. A perfunctory lover and a rigid thinker, he bends and finally capitulates when it becomes apparent that he is the selfish one in the relationship. As the story draws to a close, Anna, hugely pregnant with Ingmar, and Henrik, newly possessed of the insights his mother-in-law said he would never know, have found much more of what love entails. They do not live happily after, but they do survive the cold.

"The Best Intentions" is intensely Scandinavian in its melancholia, but not so weighty as to warrant the label Bergmanesque. Both the film and Pernilla August received top prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival. In her role, August displays an emotional range that is Himalayan. Appealing as she is accomplished, the actress charms the audience as easily as Anna seduces Henrik. Of course, as we have just seen, that's the easy part. The real test of her performance and the film's power is that they stay with us like a long summer day. Never mind that "Best Intentions," which was filmed both as a six-part TV miniseries and a three-hour movie, is occasionally uneven and sometimes confusing. It remains a rare August pleasure, a film for grown-up audiences that challenges and enriches.

The Bestg at the Cineplex Odeon Outer Circle. Intentions, is not rated but contains sensual material. It is a Swe

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