Bergman Turns to Screenwriting in `Sunday's Children'

JUST over 10 years ago, Ingmar Bergman announced that the widely acclaimed ``Fanny and Alexander'' would mark his last hurrah as a filmmaker. Although some critics had written him off as earnest but ponderous, others were saddened by the departure of an artist who had explored cinematic moods - from high tragedy to low comedy - during his four-decade career.

What nobody foresaw was that Bergman would find a variety of ways to circumvent his own retirement - directing television movies, staging theater productions, and writing screenplays for other filmmakers to direct. His latest enterprise as a screenwriter, ``Sunday's Children,'' completes a trilogy of family-oriented movies that began with ``Fanny and Alexander'' and continued with ``The Best Intentions,'' written by Bergman and directed by Danish filmmaker Bille August.

Besides dealing with members of Bergman's family in bygone times - it begins a few years after ``The Best Intentions'' leaves off - the new picture was directed by Daniel Bergman, his youngest son. Although it lacks the urgency and originality of the elder Bergman's greatest achievements, such as ``The Silence'' and ``Persona,'' it has enough visual and emotional interest to make a worthy addition to his body of work.

Set in rural Sweden during the late 1920s, the story centers on a young boy named Pu, clearly modeled on Ingmar Bergman himself. Pu's father is a country clergyman whose duties include traveling to the capital and ministering to the royal family. While this is an enviable position, it doesn't assuage problems in the pastor's marriage. Pu is young enough to be fairly oblivious to such difficulties, but his awareness grows with the passage of time. So do the subtle tensions that mar Pu's own relationship with his father, whose desire to show affection and compassion is hampered by a certain stiffness in his demeanor and chilliness in his emotions.

The film's most resonant passages take place when Pu learns to see his father with new clarity while accompanying him on a cross-country trip to another parish. In a remarkable change of tone, this portion of the story is punctuated with flash-forwards to a time 40 years in the future, showing the relationship between parent and child to be dramatically reversed: The father is now cared for by the son, and desires a forgiveness for past shortcomings that the younger man resolutely refuses to grant.

Brief and abrupt though they are, these scenes make a pungent contrast with the sunny landscapes and comic interludes in the early part of the movie.

``Sunday's Children'' is a film of many levels, and all are skillfully handled by Daniel Bergman in his directorial debut. Gentle scenes of domestic contentment are sensitively interwoven with intimations of underlying malaise. While the more nostalgic sequences are photographed with an eye-dazzling beauty that occasionally threatens to become cloying, any such result is foreclosed by the jagged interruptions of the flash-forward sequences - an intrusive device that few filmmakers are agile enough to handle successfully, but that is put to impressive use by the Bergman team.

Henrik Linnros gives a smartly turned performance as young Pu, and Thommy Berggren - who starred in the popular ``Elvira Madigan'' years ago - is steadily convincing as his father. Top honors go to the screenplay, though, which carries the crowded canvas of ``Fanny and Alexander'' and the emotional ambiguity of ``The Best Intentions'' into fresh and sometimes fascinating territory.

* ``Sunday's Children'' does not have a rating. It contains nudity, sexual behavior, and illness.

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