Played by Bergman regulars Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann, the couple quickly -- inside an hour and a half -- comes completely apart as von Sydow's visions become indistinguishable from reality. Hour of the Wolf has been described as Bergman's only horror film and that's not far from the mark, with creepy characters and imagery pervading the entire second half of the movie.
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And then it kind of vanished. That's not to say that you couldn't, with some effort, get your hands on a copy of the American release. But Bergman's original vision - the five-hour Scenes - joined the company of fabled films, such as von Stroheim's Greed, that lived a high life in film criticism while going largely unseen by film enthusiasts. Criterion, with its new, three-disc DVD edition of the original TV series, plus the American theatrical version, restores a great film to the shelves.
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The Unbearable Lightness of Being focuses on Tomas (Daniel-Day Lewis), a Don Juanist terrified of commitment and a surgeon at a Prague hospital. He is trapped between his platonic and semi-erotic love of Teresa (Academy Award winner Juliette Binoche), a photographer and his wife and a erotic and semi-platonic love of Sabina (Lena Olin), a painter and his mistress.
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When I say "peaceful" I don't necessarily mean "reconciled." In Fanny and Alexander Bergman sums up the themes of a body of work in which the director often brought audiences to the edge of the abyss and invited them to contemplate the void; and here, using a child as his stand-in, Bergman illustrates very clearly how it is that this void found its genesis and why it can never quite be filled. The difference is that the dilemma of existence in Fanny and Alexander is shown through a child's eyes (Bergman seldom used children elsewhere) and it's suffused with the magic of childhood curiosity and discovery. The child, like Bergman, will grow to be an artist; the director says that tragedies like those that befall Alexander are a necessary part of that.
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Bergman showed a penchant for family drama with Fanny and Alexander and Wild Strawberries, among others. He enjoys mixing the imaginary world of his characters with their reality. This can lead to a deeper emotional entanglement with the characters; it's human nature to reflect and react based on internalized stimuli. Unfortunately for Faithless, Bergman is revisiting territory he excelled in some 40 years ago, without shedding any new light on his subjects.
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Watching Saraband, occasionally amazed by its power and beauty, I also grew frustrated because it's his same long, slow walk towards personal annihilation, this time simply reprising the characters of contemplative Marianne (Liv Ullmann) and crotchety Johan (Erland Josephson), an ex-married couple that may still have feelings for each other. Predictably, Ullmann and Josephson are brilliant, and suggest tremendous intimacy and depth, humor and hurt. Marianne shows up at Johan's cottage, not quite knowing why. He's still the same mouthy, sensitive, soul-constricted (and often funny) curmudgeon he was 30 years ago. She's still Liv Ullmann, Bergman's luminous object within the frame.
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For any film aficionado familiar with the intimate personal history between late Swedish writer-director Ingmar Bergman and actress Liv Ullman, it's hard to watch "Faithless" without one's mind racing with questions about the autobiographical subtext.
Written by Bergman and directed by Ullman, the deeply intimate film is about Marianne (Lena Endre), a beautiful middle-aged actress subverting her passionate marriage to a celebrated orchestra conductor, Markus (Thomas Hanzon), by beginning an affair with struggling film director, David (Krister Henriksson).
Even more revealing, the catalyst for the story is a series of brainstorming sessions in which a frail, aged director (Erland Josephson) -- not so coincidentally named Bergman -- is working on a screenplay. He imagines long, emotionally charged conversations with Marianne, who joyously rehashes the beginning of the affair and painfully recalls the demise of her marriage.
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Liv Ullman may get the directing credit, but every line in Faithless is stamped Ingmar...
For any film aficionado familiar with the intimate personal history between late Swedish writer-director Ingmar...