Monday 12 January 2009

Ingmar Bergman's Saraband

Ingmar Bergman was born in 1918, in Uppsala, Sweden, and he died on 30 July 2007, at his home on the small island of Fårö. He was a distinguished theatre director, known internationally for films that he both wrote and directed which were—above all things—psychological. He concentrated on existential problems, on the many aspects of sexual love, and on the ways in which aggression affects our lives. He was able to invite audiences of his films towards the kind of thoughtful reflectiveness that is more typical of reading the best kind of written fiction.

Saraband—the word is the name of an erotic dance for two people—was the last film Bergman made before his death. It is also the name Bach used for some of the movements in his suites for solo cello, parts of which are heard in the film. Bergman made this film for television. It has ten movements, each one a duet, in a sequence preceded by a prologue and succeeded by an epilogue in which Marianne (played by Liv Ullmann) speaks directly to the audience. In the prologue, prompted by a photograph of herself and Johan (played by Erland Josephson) to whom she was once married, she decides to visit him, although they have not seen each other for many years. She is now 63 and he is 86. He lives in isolation in a summer-house on an estate in a remote place overlooking a lake. Living in a cottage by the same lake is Henrik (Börje Ahlstedt), a cellist, and his 19-year-old daughter Karin (Julia Dufvenius). Henrik is Johan’s son from a former marriage, who is despised by his father. Henrik grieves for his wife Anna, who died of cancer two years previously, and he has taken to coaching Karin, also a cellist, whom he wants to audition at the conservatory and to remain living with him. The story follows Henrik’s and Johan’s plans to control Karin and her musical career, and pivots on the question of Karin’s guilt should she assert her autonomy.

Each scene, each movement, of the film is engaging in itself, especially as one starts to wonder if there is more going on between Henrik and his daughter than there ought to be. The film is about the ways in which we come to know others, and among the many matters of psychological interest is the question of how far our character remains stable in the way that personality theorists say it does, and how far we are different with different people onto whom we project particular desires that they call forth in us. In psychological research, David Kenny and his colleagues (2001) have found that although there is consistency in the individual, there is also unique responding to particular others.

This is a great film, with great cast, which acheives an unusual intensity. You can read a longer review by clicking here.

David A. Kenny, Cynthia D. Mohr, & Maurice J. Levesque (2001). A social relations variance partitioning of dyadic behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 127, 128-141.

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