Film review: Sunday's Children

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 8 1994 12:00 a.m. MST

"Sunday's Children" continues Ingmar Bergman's cinematic autobiographical psychoanalysis, a direct sequel to last year's marvelous "The Best Intentions," which was itself an indirect sequel to one of Bergman's masterpieces, "Fanny and Alexander."

Fans will probably be satisfied with this further exploration of a young man growing up in Sweden in the late '20s, idolizing a father who runs unpredictably hot and cold in his emotions - and who occasionally strikes out in unexpected, unprovoked fury.

But for me, "Sunday's Children" seemed merely a weaker cousin of those films, despite some marvelous moments.

Episodic in its telling, the story follows Pu (Ingmar's childhood nickname) as he lives out a series of adventures during a vacation in the country. Among the more memorable moments are Pu's staying up late to listen in as his parents bicker, his mother threatening divorce; a lengthy bicycle/train trip with his father, a minister who is called upon to preach at a remote church; and an odd, unsettling sequence during which Pu discovers why a clockmaker in the region committed suicide, a violent story that is played out as a hallucinatory, black-and-white dream.

But there are also stale coming-of-age moments that include sibling rivalry, as when Pu's older brother bribes him to swallow a worm and then refuses to pay up, and later when the older brother shares his book of nude photos with Pu, as well as a number of crude body functions.

It's an uneven mix, this blend of thoughtfulness and vulgarity. Actually, the film, written by Bergman and directed by his son, Daniel, is at its best in the second half when it suddenly leaps forward to the '60s, and we see aging Ingmar talking frankly with his elderly father about his childhood disappointments.

There is much for discussion here, but there's no question in my mind that it is not up there with the master's best work. Still, for many, lightweight Bergman can be more enjoyable than almost any other film work.

"Sunday's Children" is not rated but would doubtless receive an R for violence and nudity.