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|Photo by Debra Dipaolo|
An icon of the modern European art movie, Liv Ullmann made her first film with Ingmar Bergman when she was 27. Persona, in which she starred with the director’s former lover, Bibi Andersson, sparked Ullmann’s own short-lived intimate relationship with Bergman (never married, they have a 34-year-old daughter, Linn, a novelist and film critic) and transformed the young Norwegian actor into an international symbol of sensuality and emotional truth. She subsequently starred in some of the director’s greatest work, including Scenes From a Marriage, his 1973 masterpiece of love and suffering.
Now 61, Ullmann has previously directed three features, none of which prepares you for the shattering force of her latest, Faithless. Written by Bergman, it stars Lena Endre and longtime Bergman associate Erland Josephson in a story of an adulterous affair gone cataclysmically wrong. What makes it Ullmann’s film, perhaps, is that it is a child who suffers the most. In Scenes From a Marriage, children are just part of the married couple’s emotional noise, but here the child is both witness and victim. I spoke with Ullmann in October, while she was visiting Los Angeles.
L.A. WEEKLY:You have a director’s statement in which you describe the relationship among the adults as a game.
LIV ULLMANN:In these love dances that we do, we know the rules and we know what we will have to pay. But too often children are brought into this. They are the only real victims, because they carry all the secrets, they are playing some game that they don’t want to play and don’t understand. So many people have been part of adultery, or at least have tasted it, you know. I’m not condemning anything, and neither, I think, is Bergman. But I think the film shows that if we don’t tread carefully, there will be consequences. I’ve done that. I never knew what would happen later.
What are you teaching yourself as a director?
For so many years when I acted, I’d think — without thinking I’d be a director — I wonder why they are doing it that way? When I started to direct, I was much further than I knew. I see things in frameworks. I didn’t try to develop a style, I just show what I find interesting in human relationships. Even when I gave birth, I had all the happiness and pain, but at the same time, I thought, Oh, that’s how you cry, I have to remember that. You become, what do you say . . .?
A cannibal — so many images that I’ve had in life I’m now able to put in film, words I’ve heard.
Can you talk about the process of making this film your own?
It wasn’t a shooting script, it was a monologue. I said [to Bergman], “You should do it yourself.” He didn’t want to. When he gave me the script, it was important for him to see somebody else’s images and visions, so that’s what I did. I didn’t want to discuss it with him, and he showed great dignity. He didn’t ask me, “What are you doing? Can I see it?” He’s a very controlling person, but he really was great.
Where does the writer in the film live?
Well, because the writer is Bergman, he does live on an island, Fårö, but we built the interiors in a studio in Stockholm. For the exteriors we did go to Fårö, but not around his house. The beach and the ocean that I know are so important in his life, the solitude and isolation — that’s how it looks.
The movie is complicated in that the woman is named Marianne, which is the name of your character inScenes From a Marriage, and the actor who plays Bergman here is played by Erland Josephson, who played your husband inScenes From a Marriage, which is dizzying.
They are the same people, really. The husband in Scenes From a Marriage is Ingmar. The same man who left in Scenes From a Marriage is the same old man in Faithless who is thinking of the time he left his wife and went to Paris and had this love story.
To have one story told in one moment in time, then to revisit that same moment, is pretty astonishing.
It is astonishing. I’ve done little things that only Ingmar will understand. When the husband comes in in Scenes From a Marriage and says, “I’m leaving you,” she has this striped nightdress on — that is the same nightdress I put on this Marianne when she decides to go to Paris. That doesn’t mean anything. It’s for me. And maybe it’s a love letter to Ingmar. And maybe somebody who studies the film will find these things.
Is it difficult for you to revisit material like this?
Well, you see, it wasn’t my story. Scenes From a Marriage wasn’t my life with him, although a lot of the character he built on mycharacter. The painful thing is that I’m in his world again, and his world is very dark and tough at times. Maybe I want things to be more life-affirming and positive, and that’s why he gave it to me.
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