“When I was younger, I used to say, I can’t do any more movies with him,” Liv Ullmann recalls of her long relationship with Ingmar Bergman. “Because they’re so dark, and I’m not, but I’m becoming that dark. When we lived together for some years, he would talk about his nightmares in the morning, and I used to think, Oh my God, I’m going to be starring in that.”
New Yorkers will soon have occasion to view Ullmann’s work on both sides of the camera. Faithless, her fourth film and second adaptation of a Bergman screenplay, opens on January 26. The American Museum of the Moving Image is mounting a retrospective of her work as an actress and director, while Film Forum is screening a new print of Persona (1966), with franker subtitles and a wildly surrealistic credit sequence censored upon its American release.
In Faithless, actress Marianne (Lena Endre) suddenly appears to an elderly writer named Bergman (Erland Josephson, a Bergman favorite) in his study on a remote Nordic island. She may be his muse, or may once have been his lover, and becomes the main character in the tale he is writing, a story of erotic misadventure and moral tragedy. “He wrote it as a monologue, spoken by the woman,” Ullmann explains. “I’m not sure he would have wanted to direct it. Because it’s so naked and personal. And I think he wanted a woman’s view of it.”
According to Ullmann, the film is based on “a real event from Bergman’s life.” (Pages 160 through 168 of his autobiography, The Magic Lantern, offer some illumination.) In his Scenes From a Marriage (1974), the abandoned wife (played by Ullmann, opposite Josephson) is also named Marianne. “It’s as if he’s told the same story from two different perspectives,” Ullmann says. “But I think all the grown-ups in Faithless, and the child, too, are part of him.” At one point, Josephson’s character gestures tenderly toward Marianne’s long-ago lover David (Krister Henriksson). “That was my idea,” Ullmann confirms. “Bergman refused to show David any forgiveness. But I knew that he wouldn’t have written the movie if he didn’t in some way forgive himself.”
For Ullmann, an element of farce lurks amid tragedy. “I was ending a love relationship once,” she remembers. “We were sitting on the bed of a hotel room, and I was crying and he was crying, and I thought, At least he’s really upset too. Then I looked up, and in the mirror, I saw us going boo-hoo. It was so wonderful and funny. Then I cried some more.”