Film review: 'Saraband' is slow but powerful

Published: Friday, Aug. 26 2005 12:00 a.m. MDT

SARABAND — *** — Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, Borje Ahlstedt; in Swedish, with English subtitles; rated R (profanity, brief nudity, vulgarity, violence, brief drugs, brief gore).

Like the best of Ingmar Bergman's films, "Saraband" has a hypnotic quality that draws in audiences who are patient.

But showing the required amount of patience here is not necessarily easy, as this Swedish drama is a bit on the slow and talky side.

And yes, that means it's a marked departure from the vast majority of American movies released these days. It also makes the film a viewing challenge, as does some of the material. And some of the plotting resembles television soap operas. Still, it's a must for Bergman fans.

"Saraband" is a sequel to Bergman's 1973 film, "Scenes From a Marriage," (both were originally shown on television and were trimmed for theatrical exhibition — furthering the soap opera connection to a degree).

Bergman regular and collaborator Liv Ullmann reprises her role as Marianne, who has returned after 30 years to check on her ex-husband, Johan (Erland Josephson).

At first, their reunion is uncomfortable and awkward. But eventually they get past that — and suddenly Marianne finds herself serving as the mediator in an ugly, continuing dispute between Johan and Henrik (Borje Ahlstedt), his son from an earlier marriage.

Henrik is trying to get Johan to give him some of his inheritance money early. The widower is also clinging to his daughter, Karin (Julia Dufvenius), a talented musician who has a chance to get out from under his thumb.

As with most Bergman films, this one features a lot of expository dialogue (Marianne's monologue at the start gives most of the required back story, for those who haven't seen the earlier film).

And though the plot seems deceptively simple, it's clear what Bergman is trying to say about overcoming loss and how reconciliation can be good for the soul.

But what really makes it work are the complex characterizations. While both Marianne and Karin believe Johan has softened with age, he's shown to be quite bitter in his dealings with Henrik.

The utterly convincing performances, especially by Ullmann and Josephson, also make this quite watchable.

"Saraband" is rated R for occasional use of strong sexual profanity and vulgar sexual talk, brief, full male and veiled female nudity, violence (a brief domestic struggle), brief drug content (references) and a brief, gory image. Running time: 111 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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