Directed by Liv Ullmann
Review by Matt Heffernan <email@example.com>
When so many great artists die young, it's a little disorienting when a legendary figure makes a contemporary statement. Ingmar Bergman has not directed a theatrical feature since 1986's Karin's Face. He has, however, made some Swedish TV movies, and has continued to write screenplays. His latest was directed by his former lover and longtime collaborator Liv Ullmann, and proves to be quite personal and innovative.
The film starts in the home office of the writer (portrayed by Erland Josephson), where he is trying to conjure the main character of his story, based on the photograph of a little girl. He names her Marianne, and says she is an actress with a husband named Markus who is a musician. Marianne (Lena Endre) appears to him, and he asks her about "David". This prompts Marianne to start telling her story, providing an imaginary narrative for the writer.
She talks about how Markus (Thomas Hanzon) is a conductor at the opera, and David (Krister Henriksson) is the director there, and a very close friend to the couple and their daughter Isabelle (Michelle Gylemo). While Markus is on a tour of America, Marianne and David have an affair in Paris.
A quote that opens the film talks about the extreme pain of divorce, and indeed most of Faithless deals with Marianne's messy divorce from Markus and their bitter custody battle over Isabelle. Bergman knows a lot about divorce, having gone through four, not to mention the end of his relationship with Ullmann after they had a child. The scale of the drama is almost operatic, but he tempers it with engaging and realistic dialogue.
The success of Marianne's story is simply just a product of good screenwriting. It is Bergman's unique approach to the narrative that makes it so special. By putting a facsimile of himself in the film, it becomes more of a study of his creative process and how he draws from the experience of his long and dramatic life. He has been creating unique devices since he had Max von Sydow playing chess with Death in The Seventh Seal over forty years ago. This is the 53rd screenplay of his to be filmed for a theatrical feature, but his talent and creativity have yet to dry up. It happens to be the first of these to be directed by Ullmann (she only acted in them before), who let the film mostly yield to the screenplay.
Faithless in some ways reminds me of Akira Kurosawa's Dreams, which also showed a filmmaker making an intensely personal statement near the end of his career. Kurosawa managed to make a few more films before he died, and I hope that Bergman stays around to give us at least one more great work.
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Review © 2001 Matt Heffernan