movie review by
Crissa-Jean Chappell


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Faithless, a film based on an unflinching script by the great Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, mesmerizes in the way it creates art from life. Bergman's autobiography, The Magic Lantern, describes a marriage-breaking affair similar to the one in this film -- but Faithless is less a memoir than a meditation on guilt. Tucked away on the islet of Faro in Stockholm's archipelago, Bergman, now 82, wrote the story in isolation and sent it to his former mistress, the radiant Liv Ullmann, his leading lady in the 1960s and early '70s who starred in tour de forces such as Persona (1966) and Scenes from a Marriage (1973). It says much that she consented to direct the script in all its emotional nuances, looking back on the adulterous relationship and recapturing its pain from her own perspective. It's also astonishing that he never asked to watch the rushes of the film.

The woman who left her husband to became Bergman's lover and mother of his child has made a devastating examination of conscience. Who else but Ullmann, one of his greatest screen actresses, could express the moral complexity and steadfast honesty of this remarkable psychodrama, which eerily evokes the classic, brilliant Bergman psychodramas such as Wild Strawberries. He has stamped his name on films for almost six decades. In recent years, he has grown more personal, penning intimate versions of his life story for close friends to direct. Faithless might feel introspective and overlong in a way that might boggle modern moviegoers who demand everything be clearly defined. The less-restless cineastes of the past wouldn't feel strained during brooding pauses or long penetrating close-ups.

"Film is nothing but Self," said Bergman. "That is what the resurrected world is about -- it doesn't exist outside of being SELF, i.e. it's subjective reality. There is no division between subjective and objective anymore, SELF is both. My feelings are very OBJECTIVE, pain is extremely real. The so-called 'objective' world follows the logic of Kant; it is a thing-in-itself."

By focusing on the exploration of the self, his ideas meshed easily with Freudian psychoanalytical thinking. Those studying his films found ways to express their own inner emotions. His use of huddled spaces, visual metaphors, and flashbacks created a language of memory. If a reader of literary life stories needs a text to determine whether the work stems from memory or imagination, then a cinematic autobiography will always seem subjective.

In this case, we have multiple points of view-from "storytellers" to the characters they create with God-like authority. The first, of course, is Bergman (played by his frequent on-screen alter ego, the veteran actor Erland Josephson). Next, we have a muse summoned by the elderly writer to help him think through the story of a long-dead love affair. Lena Endre plays both the muse and the woman in his story. He says a name, "Marianne," and she materializes like a ghost in his spare, stark office. A face soon accompanies the name. Now a character takes the shape of the abstractions muttered in the opening voiceover narration. ("Divorce penetrates the seat of all anguish, forcing it to life.") Without warning, we drift into a sequence which conveys these themes by arranging his personal recollections in a narrative structure.

Marianne Vogler lives with her husband Markus, (Thomas Hanzon) a world-renowned orchestra conductor, and their nine-year-old daughter, Isabelle (Michelle Gylemo), with her head filled with dreams and stories. They share a friendship with David (Krister Henriksson), an arrogant film director.

Markus' concert schedule often takes him away from home, and Marianne develops feelings for David. During a "coincidental" trip to Paris, they consummate their growing attraction and the affair continues in Sweden with horrendous consequences. This isn't a cautionary tale that sanctifies the institution of marriage. Instead, it dwells on the weight of one selfish act and how it mangles so many lives.

The little girl, Isabelle, takes on a kind of preternatural instinct for sensing danger. She rarely speaks. Instead, she listens. When she is reeling from the pain of her parents' separation, she can only express it indirectly, through storytelling. She, too, is a director. So are David and Markus, who manipulate Marianne just as Bergman, her creator, sets the scene on paper. A surprising turn of events exalts the final scene from mere melodrama into the metaphorical. Marianne might've ended her story the way unfaithful Victorian women did in books set by the sea. But that would seem inappropriate because she is, after all, just a character, a reflection of someone else's sin.

"Life needn't be a series of disasters," says Marianne, describing a world where people aren't so "morally indoctrinated." The contrast between the characters' sophisticated exteriors and their underlying cruelty grants Faithless its raw efficacy. If David is "Bergman" at an earlier age, the portrait is far from flattering. At one point, "Bergman" reaches out to stroke David's cheek: the old man forgiving the young man, even though the old man can never forgive himself.

[rating: 3 of 4 stars]