Ingmar Bergman retired as a movie director after completing his epic "Fanny and Alexander" in 1982, but his retirement has been as active as they come. When he isn't staging theater productions or television dramas, he's writing scripts that other filmmakers eagerly bring to the screen.
The latest sparkling example is "Private Confessions," based on personal events in his family's history and filmed by Liv Ullmann, who starred in some of his most renowned pictures ("Persona" and "Scenes From a Marriage") before becoming a director herself.
Like the prizewinning drama "The Best Intentions," which he wrote for director Bille August seven years ago, "Private Confessions" probes the lives of Bergman's parents in the early years of their marriage.
The main character is his mother, Anna, a spirited woman caught in what she perceives as a dull and limiting domestic life. The movie examines different aspects of her plight, and her guilt-ridden decision to enter an extramarital affair, through a series of emotionally charged conversations she has with her husband, her lover, a close friend, and an elderly uncle she's known and trusted all her life.
Adding extra interest is the fact that all the important men around Anna are members of the clergy, keenly aware of their religious responsibilities even as they recognize the human failings in their own lives.
Ullmann's directing of this rich material is more workmanlike than inspired, but the movie gathers luster from splendid contributions by a team of longtime Bergman associates. They include cinematographer Sven Nykvist and a superb cast headed by Pernilla August as Anna and the great Max von Sydow, whose credits range from "The Exorcist" to some of Bergman's greatest hits. Together they bring vibrant life to "Private Confessions," one of Bergman's most absorbing recent achievements.