Directed by Ingmar Bergman, starring Erland Josephson, Liv Ullmann, Börje Ahlstedt, Julia Dufvenius and Gunnel Fred.
This is a powerful drama portraying the aftermath of a death in a family, which in itself is more tragic than the instigating circumstance. A saraband was an erotic dance popular at royal courts during the 17th and 18th Centuries, and it's only apt that the film incorporates the loss of someone's greatest love and the study of passionate music. What makes it all the more powerful is the fact that the lost love is based on Ingmar Bergman's wife, Ingrid Von Rosen, who died of cancer.
After 30 years of no contact, Marianne (Ullmann) spontaneously decides to pay a visit to her ex-husband Johan (Josephson, like Ullmann, reprising his role from Bergman's 'Scenes from a Marriage'). Residing deep in the Swedish countryside, Johan lives alone, with his estranged son Henrik (Ahlstedt) and granddaughter Karin (Dufvenius) a few minutes away. Marianne arrives to witness the deterioration of the trio's relationships, with Henrik, Karin and Johan still mourning the loss of Henrik's beautiful wife Anna. It is two years since her death, but now is the breaking point for the ones left behind.
Dividing single weighty conversations into chapters, the characters tell how the situation has become what it is. And through the use of close-ups, these conversations often feel more like soliloquies.
Johan now only cares about Karin, knowing she feels forced into minding her distraught father through a sense of guilt. Henrik has taken over Karin's life, even becoming her cello teacher. But while she is talented and has the ability to be as talented as her musician father, Henrik has selfishly kept her with him. Without his daughter, he only has a mind full of memories of his dead wife and an empty heart.
Bergman launches you deep into the relationships. Johan and his granddaughter have a mutual respect and love for each other. Johan tries to give Karin what she wants, which Henrik is trying to keep her away from. While Johan and Karin are likeable characters, it is Henrik who is the hardest to emphasise with and so, so easy to despise - but he's also the most desperate and the only one who can't escape the situation. He suffocates Karin - once almost literally in a fit of angst - but she can no longer play a poor substitute for her dead mother. Marianne and Johan also get closure on their relationship and discover the meaning of emotion in one of the final, poignant scenes. After observing the situation in Henrik's family, Marianne finds peace with her own daughter and new meanings in their relationship.
It's not always Bergman's script that exposes the desperation of his characters, but the actors' faces. And over and over again, we see tight close-ups of this emotion. Börje Ahlstedt, who plays Henrik, is an overwhelming actor, here epitomizing an ultimate desperation, and a suicide attempt which proves it.
This film relates to the director's personal story of loss. It is a story told through wonderful acting and one which is backed up with emotion-revealing techniques. With an air of great theatrical tragedy, 'Saraband' is piteous, tough to watch and deserving of your time.