Directed by Daniel Bergman. Starring Thommy Berggren. Lena Endre, Henrik Linnros, Jakob Leygraf, Per Myrberg. (1992)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 21, 1994
By his own account, Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Scenes from a Marriage) has retired from filmmaking. Yet you would never know that from looking at his continued output. Though he is no longer directing films, Bergman is still turning out screenplays and books. His focus is autobiographical, or as in his previous screenplay The Best Intentions, pre-autobiographical. In that 1992 movie directed by Bille August, Bergman examined his matrilineal family dynamics and the troubled relationship of his parents immediately prior to his conception. In 1983, for his last announced directing project, Bergman filmed Fanny and Alexander, a sweeping family saga that detailed his ancestral roots and heritage. Sunday's Children continues Bergman's obsession with family biopsy. The Best Intentions ends with a fetal image of Bergman in the womb, Sunday's Children picks up as young Bergman (nicknamed Pu) is about nine years old. The movie's focus is the uncomfortable relationship between the father and son. And who better to direct such material than Bergman's real-life son Daniel? This Swedish tale of the dark connections between a boy and his father is ironically shot through the sunny prism of bright summer light that fills the Scandinavian countryside. Young Bergman (Linnros) is a Sunday's child, one who, according to myth, is prone to seeing fairies and visions. He learns that his father (Berggren), a seemingly stern and aloof pastor, is a Sunday's child as well. Their summer house is large and bustling and always open to the pastor's neighboring in-laws -- a fact that causes him to keep his distance. Pu is subject to all the developmental traumas of young children everywhere -- he worries when he hears his parents arguing one night, his brother tricks him into eating a worm, his uncle reveals a potent matricidal streak. Through it all, Pu retains an unsettling distance from his family and frets over his father's relationship to them. The crux of the movie is a Sunday journey on which Pu accompanies his father to a nearby parish for services. During the course of this excursion, the story flashes forward several times (Or are these the real story and all the rest merely one long flashback?) to scenes of Pu and his father as old men. The father seems now to have lost his faith, and as he approaches death, he now seeks absolution from his son. Their roles have reversed and now Pu gets to play the remote one. Or maybe that's what's going on. The psychological dynamics of Sunday's Children seem deliberately ambiguous, therefore making it possible to read a multitude of interpretations into the scenario. And of course, the problem of how to reveal emotionally aloof and undemonstrative individuals as absorbing subject matter has been a perennial puzzle for Bergman pere. Bergman fils hasn't figured it out successfully in this instance, either. The ambiguity of the story, as well as the brooding nature of its subject matter, make for a slow and studious narrative structure that has little in the way of sustained development and payoff. It looks good, is well-acted, and is thoughtfully constructed. But you have to stick with it to find out where it's going, and by that point, one guess is as good as the next.