Bergman Makes Welcome Return with 'Saraband'

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Film critic Kenneth Turan reviews what Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman's calls his final movie, Saraband. The film features a divorced couple from one of his earlier works.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman will turn 87 next week. Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan says his latest film, "Saraband," is one of his best.

KENNETH TURAN reporting:

Ingmar Bergman is back with a vengeance. With "Saraband," he's given us an intensely dramatic, even lacerating examination of life's crises. It's a film that is exhilarating in both its fearlessness and its command of the medium. "Saraband" is the writer-director's first serious look at family relationships since 1984's "Fanny and Alexander." It is also proof that he still has the passion for exploring psychological intricacies and the gifts to make that passion indelible.

"Fanny and Alexander," like "Saraband," was announced as the director's last film, but he's been unable to stay away. He's done small projects for Swedish television, where "Saraband" originated, and written scripts for other directors to film. Trying to make sense of life is not just a profession or even a calling. It's who Bergman is at the very core of his being. Two of "Saraband's" four characters appeared more than 30 years ago as estranged husband and wife in Bergman's "Scenes from a Marriage," but this film is no sequel. In fact, Bergman seems to have used these characters simply because he is familiar with them. He's placed them in an unblinking examination of the stifling nature of love as well as love's unnerving proximity to hate. What Bergman is especially good at is relationships that are savagely dysfunctional, where old grudges are far from forgotten and people can't help but verbally eviscerate each other. Examples include the relationship between a once-married couple as well as between bitter fathers and their estranged offspring.

The most remarkable thing about "Saraband" is that Bergman makes this kind of intensely emotional filmmaking look simple. The ease with which the director can call forth the most deep-seeded and complex of emotions from his actors is truly remarkable. Seeing "Saraband" also reminds us how much we're missing by not having pictures like this as part of our regular movie-going regime. Bergman's style of filmmaking seems to come not from an earlier century but rather another universe altogether, one that we've abandoned, to our disappointment and our loss.

MONTAGNE: Kenneth Turan reviews movies for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times.

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