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Saraband
cast: Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, Börje Ahlstedt, and Julia Dufvenius

director: Ingmar Bergman

107 minutes (15) 2003
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
In 1982, Ingmar Bergman made Fanny And Alexander which (especially in its longer TV version) seemed like a summing up of his films up to then, as he announced his retirement from film directing. Since then he has worked in the theatre and written screenplays for others (including Liv Ullmann and Bille August) to direct. However, with Saraband (made for Swedish TV but theatrically released), he has returned to the director's chair at the age of 86.

Thirty years after the events of Scenes From A Marriage, Marianne (Liv Ullmann) on impulse visits her ex-husband Johan (Erland Josephson), with whom she has had no contact in the meantime. Left a large amount of money by an elderly relative, Johan lives in a country house. Meanwhile, Johan's son Henrik (Börje Ahlstedt) is staying, while he tutors his daughter Karin (Julia Dufvenius) in the cello, in preparation for an entrance exam.

You don't have to have seen Scenes From A Marriage to appreciate Saraband though if you have, it's uncanny to see Ullmann and Josephson return to their roles three decades on. Saraband is a deliberately small-scale work, basically a four-hander (a fifth character makes a brief but very significant appearance at the end of the film) structured as a series of ten duets, with a prologue and epilogue featuring Marianne talking to camera. Bergman and his cast uncover much: the loss of Henrik's wife and Karin's mother Anna has driven them together into a stiflingly close, unhealthy and quasi-incestuous bond. Meanwhile, Marianne discovers how cold that Johan really is, which forces her to re-examine her own role as a wife and mother - something that pays off at the end when she visits her mentally ill daughter who has up to now failed to recognise her.

Bergman has few equals in his use of the camera, especially in close-up, to lay bare all the complexities and frailties of his characters... which would be nothing without four superb performances by his leading actors. Perhaps the film lacks the visual strength that Bergman's longtime collaborator Sven Nykvist brought to their work together: Saraband was shot in digital video by five credited cinematographers. However, in all other respects, Saraband is a fine late work by a great writer-director.

Tartan's DVD is in a ratio of 1.78:1, anamorphically enhanced, with a Dolby surround soundtrack (which is pretty much monophonic, apart from the music of Bach and Bruckner on the soundtrack). DVD extras: Behind Saraband, a 43-minute featurette comprised of interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, and trailers for Persona and Autumn Sonata.
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