By Kyle | June 10, 2007
Kyle Smith review of “Saraband”
Running time: 107 minutes/Rated R (profanity, brief nudity, violence)
SpottingÃ‚Â my DVD of’s six-hour TV miniseries, a friend remarked, ” ‘Scenes from a Marriage’? Sounds depressing.”
Quite so, and 30 years later Johan () and Marianne ( ) are rested and ready to depress a new generation in the sequel, “Saraband.” The 1973 series was a power seesaw with only two important players. “Saraband” Ã¢â‚¬â€ the term means an erotic dance for two Ã¢â‚¬â€ is like watching four people take turns trying to swim with one of the others clinging to an ankle. It’s grim and gripping.
Marianne, now 63, the divorce lawyer who’s always reaching for emotional truth, and Johan, 86, a professor who strangles his feelings, split for good after “Marriage” ended. Now Marianne shows up at Johan’s beautiful country house in autumn because she sensed he was calling out to her. “I never call anyone,” he huffs, icy to the last.
If anyone can defrost him, it’s his 19-year-old granddaughter, Karin (Julia Dufvenius, who carries both the radiance and the not-very-latent pain of a young Ullmann).
Karin is a cellist who lives with her father, Johan’s son Henrik, as both try to cope with the memory of her dead mother, Anna. Only gradually do we discover how tortured Henrik and Karin’s relationship is.
Bergman was about 90 when he was born (he made death-and-dying films like “Wild Strawberries” in his 30s), but now his vision carries the gravity of age; he turns 87 next week.
His 1983 semi-autobiography “Fanny and Alexander,” which balanced the harrowing and the magical, was then meant to be his last film.
“Saraband” seems a step back into untempered harshness, lessons unlearned. The country vistas around Johan’s house mock the suffocation of membership in this family. But as he puts it, “Who the hell said damnation is supposed to be fun?”
Life is a cruel joke to Bergman: Johan is ruined by his detachment; Henrik, by his clinging. What’s most frustrating for the viewer is that the characters can’t even achieve self-understanding.
Perhaps the closest Johan comes in the entire thumbnail epic is when, in a moment of panic, he takes off his nightshirt and allows his nude body to speak for him. It’s the most eloquent plea we have ever seen him make.