Director stays true to Bergman's 'Faithless'

When writer-director Ingmar Bergman retired from filmmaking almost 20 years ago, admirers around the world thought cinema had lost one of its most original and enduring artists. Bergman's energy proved as unquenchable as his spirit, though, and work kept pouring from his teeming imagination - plays and TV dramas that he directed, and screenplays he wrote for others.

His most recent screenplay, "Faithless," has now been filmed by Liv Ullmann, the enormously gifted actress who starred in many of Bergman's own memorable movies, including such classics as "Scenes From a Marriage" and the 1966 masterpiece "Persona," which is being revived on the art-theater circuit this season. She was personally and professionally associated with Bergman during much of her acting career, and while her earlier directorial efforts promised more than they fulfilled, "Faithless" finds her so uncannily close to Bergman's emotional wavelength that it's almost like viewing a work by the grand old Swede himself.

The film's subject is marriage, and its style is one both Bergman and Ullmann are familiar with: a leisurely, talky, claustrophobic psychodrama in which the characters and their feelings are placed under a cinematic microscope and scrutinized in relentless, sometimes agonizing detail. So intimate is the story's tone that one of the characters is actually Bergman, who sets the movie in motion by initiating a conversation with a character he's just dreamed up. Her name is Marianne, she's an actress, and her seemingly contented life as a wife and mother is about to be sorely, perhaps tragically, tested by romantic temptations touched off in her by her husband's closest friend.

On its most obvious levels, "Faithless" is a probing look at love, marriage, fidelity, rivalry, and other deep-rooted emotional issues. On other levels it's also about the complex relationships between bedrock human feelings and the process of exploring these through art. It's no accident that the characters, in addition to Bergman, are an actress, an orchestra conductor, and a movie director. One of the film's most fascinating qualities is the graceful balance it strikes between its dramatic plot and its deeper, more intellectual concerns.

Ullmann hasn't quite mastered the directing skills necessary for making such a wordy, drawn-out drama flow across the screen with no dull moments or slow spots, so there may be times when you wish the characters would go through their emotional gyrations a bit more expeditiously. The compensation for taking it on its own terms is the chance to enter Bergman's psychological universe in a full and uncompromised manner, and to witness a string of stellar performances by Lena Endre, Krister Henriksson, Thomas Hanzon, and Bergman regular Erland Josephson as Bergman's on-screen alter ego. Their acting is worth the price of admission by itself.

Not rated; contains sex and harrowing emotional material.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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