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Keeping The Faith

     "Today, I talked to Ingmar in Sweden on the phone and asked him what I should say about Faithless," Liv Ullmann said, as we sat for a hotel-balcony interview at the Cannes Film Festival last May. There, the Ingmar Bergman-written and Ullman-directed film was having its world premiere. Bergman told Ullman not to worry, and to say what she wanted about the movie: "When I gave it to you, I gave it to you with trust."

     Ullmann had felt an unbearable responsibility, being handed, in 1998, this frighteningly honest, guilt-ridden screenplay based on an incident of infidelity in Bergman's life half a century ago. She tried to convince Bergman to direct Faithless himself, or, minimally, to oversee the pre- and post-production. No, he insisted that Ullmann, who starred in Persona and other Bergman masterpieces and has a grown daughter from their long-ago relationship, make the movie, interpret it her way. He would watch Faithless only when it was finished.

     Bergman's stipulations: the remarkable Swedish actress, Lena Andre, must play Marianne, the married woman with a daughter who becomes embroiled in the affair. Erland Josephson, featured in such Bergman classics as The Hour of the Wolf, Fanny and Alexander, and Scenes from a Marriage, should be cast as "Bergman," the forlorn octogenarian thinking back, via flashbacks, to the key indiscretion of his thirties.

     The actual happening was in 1953. Ullmann: "He made Summer with Monika, and fell in love with the actress, Harriet Andersson. They went together to Paris, he came back to Sweden. He was married, had children, and said to his wife, 'I'm leaving you.' Faithless is about living through betrayal, loss."

     The script germinated for decades, until Bergman found the actress who made sense for him as the object of his adulterous desire. Lena Andre had performed for Bergman at Stockholm's Royal Dramatic Theatre in Romeo and Juliet, The Misanthrope, and Peer Gynt. "I think he didn't know what face he needed to write this story of a woman's emotions," Ullmann said, "but the memories of Lena were with him. She has everything he needed: discipline, experience, and she's a great actor. If he hadn't picked her, I would have picked her anyway.

     "I'm a woman who has known Ingmar the most, 37 years. Erland has known him for more than fifty years and is the closest to him." So close that Josephson could embody "Bergman" and the filmmaker could escape without having to play himself on screen. "That way, Ingmar isn't sitting here in Cannes," Ullmann said. "He's scared of being found out, like we all are."
Most important for Ullmann was that Bergman really liked the film when he saw the finished version. "Ingmar cried twice. First, when Marianne looks at her image in a mirror, a shot like the double mirror in Persona. Second, when Marianne comes home from the night of lovemaking."

     But where Bergman and Ullmann really differed in interpreting the material, and where Ullmann's direction took a personal turn, was in dwelling on the daughter, Isabelle,9, caught up in the dire consequences of her mother's adultery.

     Ullmann hinted that there might be a repressed memory from Bergman's boyhood: "Maybe he was that little child. I think that one time when he was very young, something bad happened to him."

     In Bergman's script, the little girl is talked about in a monologue but never appears on screen. "He didn't think of putting in the child. He didn't see the scale of suffering. I asked him about the childen he had abandoned. But his generation didn't see it as havoc.

     "Though I had to truthful to him, I also had to be true to myself. The scene I'm most proud of for Lena is when she talks to the child and cries about leaving. The first take she did as an actress, the second as the character."

     I wondered if the little girl cast as Isabelle, Michelle Gylemo, was sheltered from this episode's traumatic implications. Ullmann said, "I told the child that your parents are divorcing, your mother is leaving you. When we shot, I saw her tears. But she's an actress! She screamed, 'Did you like it? Should I do it again?'"

(Boston Phoenix, March 2-8, 2001)


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