2000, R, 142 min. Directed by Liv Ullman. Starring Michelle Gylemo, Thomas Hanzon, Krister Henriksson, Erland Josephson, Lena Endre.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 16, 2001
It may be true that the unexamined life is not worth living. In film, however, the unexamined life often spells the kiss of death, especially when the examinee finally begins investigating things that had been previously ignored. The acute observation of one's actions, beliefs, motives, and desires runs the risk of seeming a narcissistic endeavor, one that unnecessarily serves the needs of the filmmaker at the expense of the viewers. Furthermore, when the process fails to produce any unusual revelations that might serve to enlighten the audience along with the artist, then the film begins to resemble one of the most expensive forms of psychotherapy on earth. Fans of late-stage Ingmar Bergman should be forewarned, however, that they're likely to take issue with my prefatory arguments since this movie, which is directed by Liv Ullman (an actor probably best known for her Bergman collaborations) is based on a script written by the retired Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. In its opening remarks, Faithless states that “no form of failure is as painful as divorce,” and that the film “searches for answers to questions I never asked.” Reportedly based on a real event in Bergman's life, Faithless spends two hours and 22 minutes exploring the temptation, enactment, and consequences of an extramarital affair. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that my response to these events was a thundering “duh.” Relationships surprisingly get really complicated and messed up when you screw around. What a revelation. Of course, what ultimately makes a movie distinctive is not the “what” of what happens but the “how.” In Faithless the “how” is … in interminably predictable detail. In an admittedly supple and engaging performance Lena Endre plays Marianne, a writer happily married to handsome and loving orchestra conductor Markus (Hanzon). Together they have a delightful young child Isabelle (Gylemo). Then Marianne yields to temptation and has an affair with a film director and family friend David (Henriksson). Divorce, custody battles, and despair ensue. “Duh,” repeats that little voice. The movie's hook is the manner in which it unfolds. Over the course of many visits, Marianne steadily relates the story to an older man who is never named but is listed in the credits as Bergman (Josephson). The storytelling all takes place within the confines of a sparsely decorated room that looks as though it might be a writer's study, and has a film projector in the background and a bay window overlooking the shore (images that were shot on the island of Färö, where Ingmar Bergman lives). We assume that he is a writer and that Marianne's ongoing recollections are being used Scheherazade-style to prod his work. It's possible, even, that Marianne may be a ghost or a figment or a memory. Hailed by critics at international film festivals, Faithless has been greeted as a gigantic artistic achievement. But as far as I'm concerned, the fact that Bergman is finally getting around to asking himself questions he now realizes he should have asked long ago is not sufficient enough premise for a movie. The answers may be news to Bergman, but the rest of us might just want to opt for divorce.