Film review: Private Confessions

Published: Friday, Nov. 12 1999 4:19 p.m. MST

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck, right? But if a movie sounds and looks like an Ingmar Bergman film, it's not necessarily a Bergman film.

Case in point: "Private Confessions," originally a 1997 Swedish television miniseries that was trimmed down to nearly two hours for its subsequent theatrical release in Europe and the United States.

Though Bergman himself wrote the screenplay, which is based on events from his family's history, the film was directed by longtime collaborator Liv Ullmann, who used several other Bergman mainstays (including cinematographer Sven Nykvist) to help out.

Thanks to them, it's the next best thing to Bergman — a thoughtful, if slightly long drama enlivened by warm performances and some thoughtful meditations on the subject of adultery.

The film consists of five "confessions," scenes in which the main character, unhappily married Anna Bergman (Pernilla August, from "Star Wars . . . The Phantom Menace"), talks about her affair with a much-younger man, Tomas (Thomas Hanzon).

Feeling both guilty and exhilarated, Anna comes clean to her uncle and spiritual mentor, Jacob (Max von Sydow), who agrees to hear her side of the story before counseling her as to her options.

Unfortunately, what he tells her is not what she wants to hear: that she should stop seeing her lover and tell her husband (Samuel Froler) about the indiscretion, obviously hoping they can reconcile their differences.

Eventually, she does both, though neither of these encounters go quite as planned.

Because it consists of long, sustained conversations between characters, the movie looks and feels like a filmed stage play. And admittedly, some of the more prolonged scenes do get a bit tedious after a while.

However, what is said between the characters is interesting, even provocative, and the cast makes it very watchable, particularly August (convincing as her character at different ages), and von Sydow, who's wonderful, as always.

"Private Confessions" is not rated but would probably receive an R for brief male nudity and a flash of full female nudity, a brief sex scene (handled very discreetly) and some scattered, mild profanities.

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