Films of the decade: "Saraband"

For his final, stunning cinematic confessional, the great Swede returned to familiar actors and themes -- in DV!

Published December 16, 2009 8:25PM (EST)

A still from "Saraband"
A still from "Saraband"

Here are my runners-up, in alphabetical order: "Caché," "The Fast Runner (Atanarjuat)," "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," "Let the Right One In," "L.I.E.," "Silent Light," "The Station Agent," "Traffic," "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

But the best film of the twenty-aught decade is Ingmar Bergman's 2005 "Saraband," a sequel of sorts to his monumental "Scenes From a Marriage" (with the indelible Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson reprising their roles from the earlier opus), yet a film as refreshing and original as any other motion picture on my list. It stands alone: a stunning conclusion to a near-perfect career (perhaps of two careers -- since filming "Saraband," Ullmann has appeared in only one other film).

It's a story of a bond between two people so strong that even after a prolonged absence of more than three decades a shared sixth sense (and female intuition) commands a convocation, a rapprochement of family members, for a time of healing beckons. One of Bergman's hallmarks, seldom duplicated by other filmmakers, male or female, was an ability to conjure up full-blooded, diverse, complex women: Experiencing Ullmann's Marianne here is proof he hadn't lost that knack.

Josephson's turn as Johan, a man plagued by Parkinson's, a condition afflicting the actor during the time of filming, gives a demonstration of the devastating power of subtlety. Bergman's direction of relative newcomer Julia Dufvenius as Johan's granddaughter makes one marvel at Bergman's casting genius, and marvel about how stagnant the Swedish film industry must be, given that we haven't seen her on our shores since.

Bergman filmed "Saraband" masterfully in HD, and it was essential that he shoot with three cameras, as his prolonged reaction shots are second to none. As always he is expert in the use of zooms as a means of slowly (tantalizingly slowly) eavesdropping on his characters. The story is steeped in family revelations, the primal need for companionship, and is visually drenched in Bergman's beloved color red, from the sanguine maroon costumes to the rich forbidding walls of Johan's home.

Every spoken line is thrilling. This is cinema as confessional, and every bit as moving.

Film Salon has invited a group of special guests to write about their favorite film(s) of the 2000s. To read the entire series, go here.

By Jeff Lipsky

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Best Of The Decade Film Salon Films Of The Decade Movies