A sequel of sorts to 1973’s Scenes From A Marriage, Saraband catches up with “emotional illiterates” Marianne (Liv) and Johan (Erland )30 years on. In Scenes, we tracked 10 years of their marriage: blissful pleasantries to sexual breakdown to acid truths to hostile divorce, the pair continuing to fuck and rant even after they’d both remarried. Saraband similarly deals with confusion, anguish, shame, destruction, loneliness and despair. Made at the age of 85, 20 years after Bergman announced his retirement with Fanny And Alexander, it also adds one vital card to the pack: Death.
That its shadow trails the aged Marianne and Johan as they again cough up souls is a given. But, significantly, it also haunts Bergman himself, the Swedish auteur using a picture of his own dead wife to stand in for a photo of the recently deceased Anna, Henrik’s (Ahlstedt) wife and Karin’s (Dufvenius) mother. Its spectre is also there in the fact that Saraband doesn’t boast the expert precision of the director’s ’50s, ’60s and ’70s output, the odd flutter of arrhythmic editing causing the film to hitch and gurgle. And yet, paradoxically, the flaws only add to the poignancy: they announce the fading powers of a master filmmaker as he prepares for his very own dance with Death.
Regardless, Saraband is a brilliantly acted and ferociously powerful psycho-drama. Shot on DV for Swedish telly, it’s divided into 10 chapters plus a prologue and epilogue, Ullman’s intruder eyeing a series of savage confrontations between Josephson’s patriarch, Ahlstedt’s son and Dufvenius’ grandaughter. “My life has been shit – meaningless, idiotic,” murmurs Johan when Marianne arrives. Thirty minutes later he’s telling Henrik, “You barely exist.” Ouch. Safe to say Bergman hasn’t mellowed in his old age.
Not that Saraband is all gloom and tomb. Like so many of the director’s films, it also contains glimpses of hope, warmth and love. Bergman doesn’t hate his characters and never has. He just refuses to make it easy for them.