Faithless

The common presumption about infidelity, at least as it's portrayed in the popular media, is that it's always linked to temptation and desire, usually operating in tandem with one couple's unhappy relationship or one participant's rocky romantic history. In Liv Ullmann's sharply observed and wrenching drama Faithless—based on a script by Ingmar Bergman, who directed Ullmann as an actress and wrote her last film, Private Confessions—a woman's affair looks more like an act of willful self-destruction. Portrayed in an unguarded, emotionally supple performance by Lena Endre, she recounts the tragic events many years later to an aging film and theater director named "Bergman" (Erland Josephson), who conjures her ghost from thin air. This metaphysical framing device, though odd and seemingly unnecessary at first, pays off later in the film, but Endre's reflection on her past also carries far more poignancy and regret than would a sequence of present events. Looking back, Endre watches in helpless anguish as she wrecks a stable home life with husband Thomas Hanzon and daughter Michelle Gylemo in order to pursue a relationship with Hanzon's best friend, a tortured and self-loathing director played by Krister Henriksson. Their affair begins on a note of sadness, as if they're both fully cognizant of the damage they're about to inflict on themselves and their loved ones, yet can do nothing to stop the inevitable. Endre's description of it as "a dream where what you fear most happens over and over again" perfectly captures the ethereal tone of Ullmann's direction, which treats memory like a dull, ever-present ache that throbs for attention. By now, the overcast skies and portentous mood of Bergman's work have been so thoroughly chewed over by Obsession ads and sketch comedy that it seems vulnerable to unintended self-parody or kitsch. But as he proves again with Faithless, no one has a more incisive grasp on human frailties and suffering, and few have the courage and persistence to deal with them as seriously.

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