Reviewed by: Chris

Veteran master Ingmar Bergman released Saraband as what he claimed was his final movie. In a world dominated by blockbusters, even with a sprinkling of aspiring auteurs and masterful experimenters such as von Trier, he fulfilled his iconic role in setting a gold standard in cinema. For many art-house lovers, Bergman demonstrated what film can and should do when it is at the height of its power as an art form.

Having said that it seems a strange twist of fate to be viewing Saraband, as I did, at the Edinburgh International Film Festival where it is up for the Standard Life 'audience award', along with mainstream crowd-pleasers. As I cast my vote I felt it was almost a desecration for such a movie to be entered in a popularity poll, however discerning the audience. There are a number of serious works at the Festival and they should be judged by an independent panel of experts - there is a discussion afoot to create a new award along these lines - otherwise it is like comparing Beethoven with the Beatles.

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Saraband, in true Bergman tradition, wrestles with human relationships, using a slow pace, pointed dialogue, and heavy symbolism to explore the psychological states of the characters. Bergman encouraged young directors not to direct any film that does not have a "message", yet he admitted himself that he was not always sure of the message of some of his films.

We are never in any doubt that this film has a point to it, even if the point is not exactly clear. It opens with the slow soulful 'saraband' of Bach's 5th unaccompanied cello suite. 'Sarabande' is one of the movements from the suite, a slow and, compared to the others, relatively easy piece to play. Marianne (Liv Ullman), is both narrator and principal protagonist. As she walks through the rooms of a house the doors close behind her. A cuckoo clock strikes. She is in the later part of her life. She fleetingly touches the keys of a piano, as if to say she still, even in solitude, has her inner music.

Her presence is explained as she goes to the veranda and we find she is visiting an ex-husband, who was unfaithful to her many years ago. The colours are crisp and sharp. Of all the members of her family, Marianne is perhaps the clearest of mind and most well-balanced, but it is the extended interaction (with very little action) between the main players that gives us insights into the beauty of being elderly, at least for someone like Marianne who handles it well.

Later chapters of the film focus on her step-grand-daughter. Karin is a cellist, living with a rather overprotective father, also a musician. She has to face a difficult choice involving personal loyalties, her loyalty to herself and her ability, and the need to extricate herself from a situation that is bad for her but will be bad for her father if she leaves.

The symbolism of the title and music provide a neat metaphor for the decisions before her. A saraband is also a two-person dance. The suggestion, made at one point, of playing it by two people alternating is essentially a frivolous one, which serious musicians would probably reject. That the Suite for Unaccompanied Cello should not be played as a duet, even with the younger person playing the 'easier part' as Karin's father suggests, is an unobtrusive symbol reminding us, with the film's later loaded context, that there are some lines that an older and younger person should never cross together.

Saraband shows how old age can tempt us to wisdom or its opposite.

Reviewed on: 01 Aug 2007
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Ingmar Bergman returns to Scenes From A Marriage 30 years on.
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The Exile ***

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Writer: Ingmar Bergman

Starring: Liv Ullman, Erland Josephson, Borje Ahlstedt, Julia Defvenius, Gunnel Fred

Year: 2003

Runtime: 107 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Sweden, Italy, Germany, Finland, Denmark, Austria


EIFF 2005

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