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Movie Review - Love and war

Faithless chronicles the unraveling of a family

When it comes to the catalog of human misery and an appreciation of the emotional depths roiling beneath life's polite surface, few can match Ingmar Bergman, whose film career has spanned more than 50 years and tackled an astoundingly subtle inventory of human behavior.
Directed with great insight by actress Liv Ullmann, screenwriter Bergman's presence often dominates Faithless. From the film's glacially paced misery to the onscreen writer Bergman (Erland Josephson), who conjures up a lover and an event from his past to help him write a script, Faithless is an engrossing assertion of the Swedish art film director's propensity for profound navel-gazing into the morality of our actions. In fact, Bergman's script for Faithless is drawn from an event in the Swedish director's own past — his affair in 1949 with a journalist named Gun Hagberg — that parallels the disastrous infidelity at the heart of Faithless.
A frequent performer in some of Bergman's greatest films of the '60s and '70s, Ullmann's voice can also be felt throughout Faithless in a story told from the woman's point of view about the slow-burn havoc adultery wreaks on three lives. Rather than romanticizing the experience, Faithless has the actress and director getting down into the muck of infidelity, panning for granules of truth amidst the grime.
When the onscreen Bergman is visited by a woman from his past, an actress named Marianne (Lena Endre), the film flashes back to a seminal event in their lives. Years earlier, Marianne had an affair with her husband's friend David (Krister Henriksson) that ultimately ruined her marriage and — most painfully — ate away at her young daughter Isabelle's (Michelle Gylemo) security and innocence. The betrayals carried out between husband and wife, parent and child left the participants adrift and devastated by how easily allegiances, love and intimacy can turn to animosity and alienation.
As with other Bergman productions, there is a distinct iciness to the proceedings. A glaze of formality and detachment pervades as even the most hurtful emotions are plumbed. Though a consistent theme in Bergman's own work has often been a desire to examine the depths of women's inner lives, Faithless embraces a woman's point of view without losing sight of the complexities of its two equally troubled male characters. Men who initially seem unreasonably cruel develop into far more tormented human beings by the film's end. Like all of Faithless' multifaceted characters, David begins to reveal previously hidden depths of feeling that suggest Bergman forgiving his younger, callow self for the irreparable damage he has done.
One of Ullmann's greatest coups in the impressive Faithless is having employed an actress, Lena Endre, able to convey with her refined expressions of doubt, fear and anguish, the true torment of her unraveling life. A woman who seems fatalistically drawn to making bad decisions that she later regrets, Marianne says of her affair and its aftermath, "It was like a dream where what you fear most happens over and over again." That dark theme is echoed in the cancerous, murky cinematography that manages to inject what has become a common human occurrence — deception — with a real profundity and magnitude in Bergman and Ullmann's affecting collaboration.