A Song For Martin
A lopsided melodrama in four acts, Swedish director Bille August's A Song For Martin starts in one direction, then performs a cruel narrative fake-out, sandwiching together two different movies that are scarcely related. After a succession of ghastly misfires in Hollywood (The House Of The Spirits, Smilla's Sense Of Snow, Les Misérables), August returns to his roots as an Ingmar Bergman protégé, beginning with a scenario that's not far removed from his fine adaptation of Bergman's The Best Intentions. Inspired by renewed passion and vigor well into their 60s, celebrated composer Sven Wollter and first-chair violinist Viveka Seldahl fall in love on a symphony tour and leave their respective spouses to marry each other, much to the anger and disappointment of their grown children. After a euphoric honeymoon in Morocco, they settle into a charming and secluded house on a lake, where they work on Wollter's concertos and operas from adjacent pianos. From the fallout of their previous marriages to the inherent tension of artistic collaboration, the film plants several hairline cracks which could rupture the relationship. But when the other shoe drops, A Song For Martin crumples up much of the first act like a wasted draft: As punishment from the narrative gods, the newlyweds are ravaged by the withering effects of Alzheimer's disease, which turns Wollter into a faint echo of his former self. The actors carry their roles with impressive authenticity and feeling, particularly Seldahl, who cycles through the turbulent emotions that come from watching her new husband slowly recede from view. Had the film begun after the marriage, it would have at least made sense as a mature and credible (if familiar) treatment of Alzheimer's, even if the disease tends to flare up at the story's convenience. But outside of a grueling sequence in which the couple returns to their Moroccan honeymoon suite, the early section has no dramatic payoff, except to suggest that Alzheimer's came about as a moral consequence to their adultery. The only other possibility is that August wants to show their youthful vitality before it's tragically squelched. But if that were the case, why does their happiness have to come at the expense of two broken marriages? On the surface, A Song For Martin appears to be about a woman's steadfast love for her husband in the face of a remorseless disease, but August winds up suggesting that they both had it coming.