Review: Face to Face DVD

STUDIO: Olive Films | DIRECTOR: Ingmar Bergman | CAST: Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, Aino Taube, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Kristina Adolphson
RELEASE DATE: 8/30/2011 | PRICE: DVD $29.95
BONUSES: none
SPECS: R | 135 min. | Foreign language drama | 1.78:1 widescreen | stereo | Swedish with English subtitles

RATINGS (out of 5): Movie | Audio | Video | Overall

Face to Face

Erland Josephson and Liv Ullmann star in Bergman's Face to Face.

This late-career movie gem from director Ingmar Bergman (Fanny and Alexander) has played sporadically in repertory theatres and museums since its initial release in 1976, but it has never been available on DVD (or even VHS) in America until now. The result is the rediscovery of a truly miraculous performance by Liv Ullmann (Persona) and a number of thoroughly memorable “nightmare” sequences.

Though the film initially focuses on Ullmann’s psychiatrist character and her struggle to reach a non-communicative patient, it quickly swerves to become a chronicle of the doctor’s own mental breakdown. Bergman stalwart Erland Josephson (Cries and Whispers) co-stars as the fellow doctor who conveniently meets Ullmann just as she begins having the breakdown and winds up caring for her throughout the process.

The most intriguing aspect of the film is Bergman’s inclusion of sequences that belong to other movie genres (Bergman’s work comprising its very own genre). Thus, Ullmann wanders in one scene into what seems to be a thriller when she returns to her house, discovering her patient lying on the floor, and is sexually attacked by the two menacing gents who transported the patient there. It is never made clear whether this moment is a dark fantasy on Ullmann’s part or an actual event, and the scene is all the more effective for the mystery.

Also, Ullmann’s character experiences visions in a coma following a suicide attempt that play out like sequences from a horror movie. Like his successors Roman Polanski (Cul-de-sac) and David Lynch (Blue Velvet), Bergman’s tormented take on human suffering is far more disturbing than a similar moment in a horror movie.

Ullman was the last and most prominent of the actresses that Bergman crafted pictures for. In Face to Face she delivers an Oscar-caliber performance that finds her frequently playing directly to the camera, delivering long, complicated monologues. Her bravura turn leads one to wonder who actually beat her that year for the Best Actress award. (Answer: Faye Dunaway in Network.)

The disc includes no supplements, but the film provides a solid evening’s viewing. One hopes that the original, longer Swedish television version of Face to Face (never seen in the U.S.) is made available at some point in the future, since it no doubt solved some of the bumpier plot points in this version (the original, four-part miniseries ran 200 minutes).

And be sure to watch the picture from the very beginning to the closing credits, since Face to Face is best remembered by movie geeks as the film that Woody Allen adamantly refuses to walk in late on in Annie Hall.

 

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About Ed

Ed Grant has written about film for a wide range of periodicals, books and websites. He edited the reference book The Motion Picture Guide Annual and, since 1993, has produced and hosted the weekly cable program Media Funhouse, which Time magazine called “the most eclectic and useful movie show on TV.”