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Scenes from a Marriage

Bitter Romance from Bergman and Ullmann

Face to Face: Lena Endre and Krister Henriksson in Faithless.

By Jaimie Baron | Posted

Faithless begins with an old man (Erland Josephson)--unnamed but clearly a stand-in for Ingmar Bergman, the great Swedish filmmaker who wrote the screenplay--speaking to someone unseen. A woman (Lena Endre) enters his studio, a spare space outfitted with a film camera. Marianne, as the man calls her, begins to ask him questions about herself: What is her name, is she married, does she have children? He answers, but soon the interview reverses. The old man begins asking Marianne about herself, and takes notes. Is Marianne a character he is in the act of creating? As she struggles to find the words to describe her life, her feelings, and her actions, we watch with the old man as she takes form. As Faithless progresses, it slips back and forth between the old man's small studio by the ocean and the spaces of Marianne's life. While her husband, Markus (Thomas Hanzon), a famous conductor, is touring, she and Markus' best friend, David (Krister Henriksson), fall into a passionate and uncontrollable affair. Inevitably, Markus confronts his wife and friend; when Marianne asks what he is going to do to her, he says he doesn't know but that "it will hurt." These words haunt Marianne, and Markus does hurt her in irrevocable ways, forcing Marianne to scar their young daughter, Isabelle (Michelle Gylemo), and using David's jealousy to trick him into hurting Marianne himself. Each of the characters is in some way repugnant--they all do terrible things to one another and seem to think only of themselves.

Directed by Liv Ullmann, Bergman's most famous star and his one-time lover, Faithless is visually limited: In the famous Bergman style, most of the shots are of the characters' faces, usually when they are wrestling to say what they mean. Indeed, Faithless is less about infidelity than about articulation. Marianne tries series of words, grasping for the ones that will explain--or justify--the selfish decisions she has made. The relationship between Marianne and "Bergman" becomes much like that of patient and therapist, or perhaps priest and confessor. At one point, Marianne disappears and David appears in the studio, struggling to tell the old man his side of the story, trying to understand in retrospect what happened and who was to blame.

Bergman and Ullmann skillfully blend the story-within-a-story into the film's larger framework, but they undercut Faithless by pulling out of the narrative for lengthy episodes in the studio, the camera repeatedly landing for long shots on Josephson's face. One wonders whether we're supposed to feel sorry for the aging director or simply be reminded that, yes, Ingmar Bergman wrote the script. Perhaps Ullmann sees Marianne as partly autobiographical and wishes to echo her real-life relationship in the film. Whatever the reason, the result is a film that is too long, even tedious at times, and too self-referential. But when Ullmann allows Bergman's characters to speak in the world of the story, they tell more than the words they say, and their unsentimental pain is bitter and moving.

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