HAVE YOU EVER betrayed someone you cared about? Caused damage, light or lacerating? Stepped high over the mess and walked away intact, or thought you had? Who can say that they haven't? Faithless is our reckoning day, a mesmerizing, merciless look at the ruination of divorce, given shape, spirit, and warmth by Liv Ullmann's direction of Ingmar Bergman's screenplay.
directed by Liv Ullmann with Lena Endre, Thomas Hanzon, Krister Henriksson, and Erland Josephson opens March 30- April 5 at Varsity
Does that give Ullmann more credit than she deserves? After all, this is Bergman. Yet what she's adapting is, in essence, a very long monologue without so much as stage directions. What she then makes of it is so supple, so inventive, so much a work of the heart, that it's a revelation—perhaps even to herself.
Faithless is Ullmann's fourth film as a director and her first in a contemporary setting. Maybe that's freed her, because in spite of a narrative device that could have made Faithless claustrophobic and stifling, Ullmann has taken the material by the scruff of its neck and shaken it to life. Never underestimate the power of directing something you know a thing or two about firsthand.
Faithless opens with an aging, reflective filmmaker (magnificent Bergman veteran and alter ego Erland Josephson, called "Bergman" in the credits) living alone in his windswept Faro Island snuggery. There he summons to mind an actress to help him work out an intensely personal story he's writing, to give him a woman's perspective. Like a muse, Lena Endre appears in a role that soon becomes two roles: First she plays the "actress," who will investigate the character of Marianne with "Bergman." Then, in repeated flashbacks, she plays Marianne, his long-ago love who was also an actress. (There is not an untruthful nor an unsparing second to Endre's splendid performance.)
As we view Marianne's life, her marriage is assured and comfortable. Markus (Thomas Hanzon), her dark-haired, appreciative husband, is a conductor on the international symphony circuit; in the theater, the vibrantly lovely Marianne has no shortage of roles; and their 9-year-old daughter Isabelle is perfection in the tradition of wide-eyed, prescient Bergman children.
WHAT COULD CRACK this marble-smooth surface? Jealousy. David (Krister Henriksson) is their closest friend, a film director in his late 40s who already has two bad marriages, two neglected young sons, and a lousy reputation with women. Yet during one of her husband's trips abroad, Marianne slides into a dalliance with the difficult David, feeling that "I was simply a part of something mysterious . . . that would always be there in my body."
For a while she's able to treat the affair lightly, even to tell Markus with innocent elaborateness that she and David will be in Paris at the same time, allowing her husband to encourage them to see each other there. However, as Marianne learns, it's dangerous to confide to a man of David's competitiveness that "Markus says that sex with me is better than conducting The Rite of Spring." After their week in a grand, bordello-red Paris hotel room, David, volcanically jealous, becomes demanding and possessive; before our eyes, what has seemed secure is utterly in ruin.
Ullmann uses intuition and sheer audacity in sculpting Faithless. In a very un-Scandinavian move, she has the guts to treat The Confrontation Scene more like sex farce than tragicomedy, something that works brilliantly. And, in a change from Bergman's screenplay, she puts Isabelle on screen, where we can see in one pure, clear-cut moment the destruction of "this little self." It is excruciating.
In the last lines of her 1974 autobiographical memoir Changing, Ullmann asks Bergman if people would like the film that they had just finished. His answer is as true for Faithless as it was for Face to Face.
"Regard it as a surgeon's scalpel," Bergman said. "Not everyone will welcome it."