Film captures divorce's devastation
"Faithless" with Lena Endre, Krister Henriksson. Directed by Liv Ullmann. Written by Ingmar Bergman. In Swedish with subtitles. Rated: R, contains nudity, sexual scenes, strong language. In Missoula (New Crystal). ***
Few films of recent memory have captured the psychic devastation, the emotional abyss, of adultery and divorce as completely as Liv Ullmann's "Faithless," a movie she has directed from a script by Ingmar Bergman. Given this movie's pedigree, we expect a certain sort of emotional depth, and "Faithless" does not disappoint.
An aging man sits in a spare room overlooking the sea, and he summons a woman, whispers her into being in a seductive dialogue, as he creates her face, body and, finally, name. She is Marianne, an actress. "Tell me," he implores her. And she begins her story, a complex yet ordinary tale of a marriage rent by unexpected love for another, the familiar story of three people hurting each other, the agony of a child's shattered world.
The movie glides back and forth between the intimate room where the old director (Erland Josephson)and Marianne (Lena Endre ) remind each other of this awful tale, and the actual events of marriage, flirtation, adultery, divorce, heartbreak. Bergman's words are weighted and profound, not a single quotidian detail too small for thoughtful recounting. Ullmann films it all with Bergman-esque quiet intensity, allowing her sublime actors ample chance to inhabit their faces.
In an early scene, cozy at home with Marianne and her brilliant composer husband Markus (Thomas Hanzon), they share dinner with their young daughter Isabelle (Michelle Gylemo) and their best friend David (Krister Henriksson). Marianne and David have already fallen in love, have already planned their first rendezvous, though it has yet to happen. Isabelle climbs happily and sleepily from the lap of one adored adult to another. Finally she nestles in David's arms, and he cradles her as the adults joke and laugh. He picks her up and carries her to her bed, and a chill goes through you, the awful, chilly certainty of disaster.
Ullmann is very good at scenes such as these, scenes in which nothing much seems to be happening except life being lived. Even in moments of high drama, as when Markus discovers his wife and her lover in bed, Ullmann keeps the focus grimly practical. The emotions are huge, but David can't find his boxers. Played neither for pathos nor laughs, this just simply is how life gets lived.
Marianne, David and Markus are all ignorant and selfish in just the sort of way that causes havoc for others. We never really care for them, watching their drama unfold because of how it reflects all our experiences. It isn't until their actions begin to harm Isabelle that the movie takes an agonizing turn from which we cannot escape.
"Faithless" can be coy - the identity of Marianne's listener remains a mystery until the final moments of the movie - and its plot can be strangely melodramatic. We can also choose to view it as autobiography, a glimpse into Bergman's life. On the whole this movie dares to explore the love which cannot speak its name: divorce.