Ingmar Bergman's retirement from filmmaking is beginning to resemble the farewell tours of Jenny Lind, "the Swedish Nightingale" of the 19th century. Always, there was just one more. The difference is that while the great soprano's powers continued to decline, the great Swedish director's grow ever more rich and subtle.
After "Fanny and Alexander" (1982), Bergman retired from film directing (he has continued to remain active as a director on theatrical and operatic stages), but he wrote the screenplay for "The Best Intentions" (1992), which Bille August directed. Now he has written the screenplay for "Sunday's Children," the first feature to be "directed" by his 32-year-old son, Daniel. (The film will open at the Charles today).
One puts "directed" in quotation marks because this is either the greatest first feature ever directed or one in which the father was a more than modestly helpful presence on the set. It is unmistakably an Ingmar Bergman movie -- one that in its power to conjure the realities and mysteries of living and loving makes the work of most other filmmakers pale into insignificance.
"Sunday's Children" is about a minor incident in the life of "Pu" (Henrik Linnros), the 8-year-old son of Henrik (Thommy Berggren), a Swedish pastor. One summer, Pu accompanies his father on a bicycle trip to a far-off church, where the latter will deliver a guest sermon on the Feast of the Transfiguration -- the day on which Jesus revealed himself to his disciples and on which (in Swedish folklore) it is possible to learn what the future holds.
It seems a beautiful, peaceful day in which a father is able to relax with the favorite of his several children. But short flash-forwards 50 years to 1968 tell us that the relations of Pu (now called Ingmar) with his father became troubled, that he grew to resent his father as well as adore him, and that while he can offer Henrik, now a dying man, "friendship," he refuses to forgive him.
These flashes forward result in some astounding coups des theatres. While we begin watching the film as a straightforward narrative, the flashes forward, which occur about halfway into the film, suggest the movie may be instead the recollections of Pu as he watches his father die.
The film becomes one of those magical interactions between the past and present with which Bergman has been enchanting us since "Wild Strawberries," a kind of playing with time that tells us that the past is another country, which makes the sense of loss experienced in nostalgia all the more tangibly painful.
This review originally ran in The Sun April 8, when "Sunday's Children" was shown at the Baltimore International Film Festival.
Starring Henrik Linnros, Thommy Berggren
Directed by Daniel Bergman
Released by First Run Features