Revisiting the irreparably splintered middle-aged couple Marianne (Liv Ullman) and Johan (Erland Josephson) of Scenes from a Marriage as they reunite 30 years later, Saraband represents a continuation as well as a culmination of Ingmar Bergman’s spare, late period films, most notably in the purgative confessions and emotionally resigned acceptance of Autumn Sonata. Opening with a bookend monologue shot of Marianne sifting through a series of scattered photographs on a large table in her home as she introduces the people in her life (and invariably illustrate her isolation from them): a married daughter in Australia, a second daughter, Martha (Gunnel Fred) whose consuming mental illness has worsened to the point of institutional admission, a reclusive ex-husband Johan who discourages her plans for an upcoming visit, and a troubled, former son-in-law whose life has turned into upheaval since the death of his wife Anna after a long consuming illness (recalling the emotional crisis of Cries and Whispers) and whose very existence has been obsessively refocused to their daughter Karin (Julia Dufvenius), an aspiring cellist who seems inevitably – but reluctantly – destined for an international career as a musician away from her adrift, desperately clinging father. Similarly structured in episodic numerical chapters, Saraband retains the penetrating, distilled intensity of Bergman’s late period masterworks but infused with the unsentimental, but gentle humor of distanced perspective and thoughtful reflection. Rather than a nostalgic swan song, Bergman has created another provocative chapter in his enduring expositions into the most fundamental human need for connection.
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