Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
Faithless is the kind of high arthouse movie that has not been in vogue for many a long year – a movie which appears to come from before the era of irony and dumbing down, a movie indifferent to demotic influences, and drawing intelligently on the aesthetics of music and the stage. Beautifully composed and passionately performed to a high level of art and technique, it is directed by Liv Ullmann from a script by Ingmar Bergman, which in turn is taken from aspects of the master’s own life – in which Ullmann has played her own legendary part. And indeed the interrelationship of art and life, fiction and fact, is at the fulcrum of this fascinating ensemble piece about the minuet of the deceiver and the deceived, among the cultured and elegant European classes, living lives which are outwardly furnished with serene ascetic taste, but inwardly writhing in extravagant agony.
We begin with a writer living on an island, named, candidly enough, Bergman (played by Bergman veteran Erland Josephson), his face incised with age and anguish. In one corner of the room, there is a film projector, and a desk where the screen should be. The story he is incubating and its dramatis personae take shape before us, and then we enter the life of the marionettes. Marianne, played by the outstanding Lena Endre, is married to Markus but embarks on an affair in Paris with David, played by Krister Henriksson. Anguish and jealousy ensue, and the chief sufferer is Marianne’s infant daughter, who is subjected to unbearable cruelty.
It is the kind of film in which the leading lady can say lines like: ‘Markus said sex with me was better than conducting The Rite of Spring,’ without the smirk of bathos that would come in another sort of movie. Even preposterously comic scenes, such as David’s rehearsal of his calamitous avant-garde ‘anti-play’, are coloured by the perfect sobriety which Ullmann and Bergman bring to this material. With absolute faith in its own seriousness and that of its audience, Faithlessaddresses the life of the mind, and the erotic life, with equal conviction – and searches the wound of existence unflinchingly. This is an unanswerably powerful film – a film for intelligent grown-ups. — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian, 9/2/01