The Best Intentions

The Best Intentions

****

Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Though famed Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman did not direct this three-hour epic feature (that honour belongs to Danish director Bille August), his shadow looms large over the picture. Bergman penned this screenplay after his retirement from film directing, which August turns into a lengthy, gently paced but quietly intense dramatisation of Bergman's parents fateful meeting, and their difficult marriage in the years up to his birth. Cut down from the six-hour version made for television, there is still plenty to digest here and nothing feels rushed. The film itself was rewarded with a Golden Palm at Cannes.

In 1909, poor theology student Henrik Bergman falls in love with Anna Åkerbloom, the daughter of a rich family in Uppsala. After their wedding Henrik becomes a priest in the north of Sweden, but the change in lifestyle, Henrik's devotion to his curate position, the poisonous politics of the town and their semi-adoption of a strange child called Petrus all strain Anna's loyalties to a breaking point before the birth of their second son Ingmar.

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August keeps things restrained, perhaps even a bit pedestrian, as the drama plays out, moving from one series of quiet moments to another. The two talented main actors, Samuel Fröler and Pernilla August (who won The Cannes Best Actress award for this performance) superbly portray the couple sitting atop a vast gulf ready to lurch into existence between them at any time. All this plays out against a stunning backdrop - the snowbound, windswept deep forests of northern Sweden through which tiny locomotives plough furrows.

Much of the intriguing tension comes from the fundamental contrasts between them and the expectation of an explosion. Henrik is intense brooding and guarded, Anna is snobbish, privileged and impulsive. Henrik, as the opening scene makes clear, had an unhappy upbringing, Anna clearly did not. In one notable early scene, Anna's icily protective mother summons Henrik to her to express in remarkably frank terms that she sees a disaster looming should their courtship come to fruition. The young couple resist her influence,as young couples do, but this is Bergman's world and love is a twisted, strange thing, as are humans. The best intentions do not always a happy ending make.

Reviewed on: 21 Apr 2010
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A pastor's marriage is stretched to breaking point.
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Director: Bille August

Writer: Ingmar Bergman

Starring: Samuel Fröler, Pernilla August, Max von Sydow, Ghita Nørby, Mona Malm

Year: 1992

Runtime: 180 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Sweden, Germany, UK, Italy, France, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland

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