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.
Is Marianne a memory? Is she a ghost? Or could she just be an intensely imagined fictional muse -- this director's way of getting in touch viscerally with the characters in his script?
Ultimately that question is left up to the viewer as the film drifts back and forth between the complete upheaval Marianne's romantic self-sabotage brings into her life and her tearful recounting of those events to Bergman in the tranquility of his secluded beachfront home. Both elements of the film are equally poignant and both are resonant with tenderness, affection, grief and sorrow.
Endre creates great sympathy for Marianne even as "Faithless" moves through her memories of the unjust infidelity that began as flattered curiosity. It's clear enough that David, a long-time friend of Marianne's husband's, has been infatuated with her for some time. Although her love life with handsome, virile Markus is lively and fervent, she arranges to rendezvous with the seemingly joyless David in Paris for a tryst to satisfy a capricious yearning she cannot seem to quell.
Although theirs is an oddly impassive and strenuous infidelity, when Marianne and David return home to Stockholm, they've become so embroiled in their adultery that they're unable to break it off. Inevitably, Markus catches on, and when he finally confronts his unfaithful wife and friend, his percolating rage (and David's ongoing paranoid jealousy) brings about an ugly divorce and custody battle for the couple's young daughter, whom Markus uses as a pawn.
Ullman's discerningly low-key directing style lets even the subtlest of emotions reach the viewer without any loss of potency in this uniquely structured film. When the action is taking place in the relative sanctuary of Bergman's study, Marianne's still-ardent feelings of fleeting euphoria and protracted anguish are just as effectual as in the scenes from her memory. This is a testament to Endre's talent as well as Ullman's deft and perceptive execution.
Coalescing in such brilliant performances and seasoned with allusion and symbolism that give the picture an ambiguously limbo-like atmosphere, "Faithless" is enthrallingly original work of highly personal fiction.
Run time: 142 mins
In Theaters: Friday 15th September 2000
Production compaines: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Liv Ullman
Starring: Tallulah Bankhead as Carol Morgan, Robert Montgomery as William 'Bill' Wade, Hugh Herbert as Mr. Peter M. Blainey, Louise Closser Hale as First landlady, Maurice Murphy as Anthony 'Tony' Wade, Anna Appel as Mrs. Mandel, Second Landlady, Lawrence Grant as Mr. Ledyard, Henry Kolker as Mr. Carter, Geneva Mitchell as Party Guest (uncredited)