|How, exactly, is one to select the film from a career as rich and cinematically brilliant as Ingmar Bergman? I could be obvious (The Seventh Seal), intensely cerebral (Wild Strawberries), or even a bit unconventional (The Virgin Spring), but I must simply go with my gut on this one. Having seen only the theatrical version (155 minutes), as opposed to the mammoth entry that played on Swedish television (5 hours), I cannot speak to the complete vision, but it would hard to imagine anything as thorough and complete as this ÂshortenedÂ edition. ItÂs a flawless, gut-wrenching masterpiece as it is. Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann star as Johan and Marianne, respectively, a married couple who literally take us through their lives over many years. But as a portrait, this is not simply a soap opera or even a daily accounting, but rather a philosophical examination of relationships themselves.
As one essay I read stated, Bergman has moved from ÂDoes God exist?Â to ÂDoes love exist?Â As we watch these people, quite ÂtypicalÂ in many respects, but certainly more intellectual and affluent than most, we are forced to ask not what makes men and women compatible (like the Mars and Venus silliness), but rather deep, troubling questions such as: Is infidelity inevitable? Is the coupling component of marriage itself a violation of our natural, selfish impulses? Is complete honesty, especially regarding a spouse, ever really possible? Or even desirable? Do we grow accustomed to the lies, after all? Given that itÂs Bergman we are dealing with here and not some shyster like Dr. Phil, no answers are immediately forthcoming, although we may not like what is revealed by the representations on screen. Despite its length, or perhaps because of it, I was utterly transfixed throughout; marveling at the wisdom, maturity, sensitivity, and difficulty of the human animal. You know what you can do with your sitcom bullshit regarding men and women — this is the real deal; raw, painful, and illuminating.