Friday January 7, 2000
Legendary director Ingmar Bergman and actress-turned-director Liv Ullmann have had some remarkable collaborations in the past--"Persona," "Cries and Whispers," "An Autumn Sonata," etc. Now Ullmann has directed "Private Confessions" from Bergman's script drawn from events in the lives of his own parents, whose unhappy marriage he also dissected in his script for "The Best Intentions" (1989), directed by Bille August.
The result, filmed in 1996, is as oppressive, alas, as it is impressive: The performances are luminous--with Pernilla August and Samuel Froler repeating their roles from "Best Intentions"--and its perceptions are profound. But it is so weighty and protracted you suspect that Ullmann has been overly respectful of the words and thoughts of her illustrious mentor. Ultimately, the film is worth the considerable effort it demands, but you can't help thinking that a less measured, far terser approach might have given the film considerably more vitality and impact.
Superbly structured, the film is composed of five extended conversations, confessional scenes dealing with a pivotal moment in the life of an unfaithful wife who at 45 at last can participate in the ancient Christian ritual of communion she could not at 18. "Private Confessions" charts a longing for spiritual redemption in the wake of an adulterous affair, but it also suggests that in matters of love women are capable of more strength and honesty than men.
The film opens in 1925, when August's Anna, after some hesitance, confesses to her beloved Uncle Jacob (Max Von Sydow), a man of the cloth, that she has been unfaithful to Henrik (Froler), a zealous theologian whose superior is none other than her uncle. She tells him that she has plunged into a passionate affair with a young theology student, Tomas Egerman (Thomas Hanzon). Jacob is wise, compassionate and nonjudgmental but advises that the only valid course for his niece to take is to tell her husband the truth.
At the moment of confession, Anna feels only an overwhelming relief, especially since her husband initially makes a real effort to be understanding, but soon she is swept over by guilt, just as he is by anger. Yet in a quintessentially Bergman-esque remark, Anna urges, "Let's at least be miserable together." She has already forthrightly declared that she responded to rather than resisted Tomas because she "hoped to enjoy the experience of love just once in my life." But 10 years later, when she is summoned by a now-dying Uncle Jacob to tell him how her life has been, we can see how high a price she has paid and how she has yet to forgive herself. You are left to wonder whether Anna would have been unfaithful had she known the long-term effect of her actions.
August and Von Sydow possess the stature and range their characters demand, and no small degree of Froler and Hanzon's effectiveness lies in their striking similarity in their bland good looks. Both are persuasive as men not up to dealing with the predicament that entangles them.
Photographed with the usual luster by longtime Bergman collaborator Sven Nyqvist, "Private Confessions" looks rather than feels like a Bergman film. Too much of it lacks that essential spark that enlivens even Bergman's gloomiest films.
Private Confessions, 2000. Unrated. A First Run Features release of a SVT production in collaboration with NRK, DR, YLE 2 and the Nordic TV Coproduction Fund. Director Liv Ullmann. Producer Ingrid Dahlberg. Executive producer Kaj Larsen. Screenplay Ingmar Bergman. Camera Sven Nyqvist. Editor Michal Leszcylowski. Costumes Inger Pehrsson. Production designer Mette Moller. Running time: 2 hours, 7 minutes. Pernilla August as Anna. Samuel Froler as Henrik. Max Von Sydow as Uncle Jacob. Thomas Hanzon as Tomas Egerman.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun