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A Tale as Complex as the Lives Behind It

For Liv Ullmann, directing 'Faithless' was deeply personal work. After all, her ex-lover and director wrote it.

February 11, 2001|KEVIN THOMAS | Kevin Thomas is a Times film writer

Sweden's great director Ingmar Bergman has been a man of many muses, inspired by numerous illustrious actresses, but none lovelier, more talented or enduring than Liv Ullmann.

In 1966, Ullmann made her first film with Bergman, "Persona," and the same year bore him a daughter, Linn, who is now an Oslo-based writer. Eight more films in which Liv Ullmann acted for Bergman followed, highlighted by "The Passion of Anna" (1969), "Cries and Whispers" (1972) and "Scenes From a Marriage" (1973), which paralleled the breakup of their five-year relationship. Bergman, now 82, retired from screen directing with "Fanny and Alexander" in 1983, but has continued writing and also directing in the theater.

After Ullmann began directing and writing, Bergman asked her to undertake "Private Confessions" from his script drawn from events in the lives of his parents, whose unhappy marriage he also dissected in the 1989 Bille August-directed "The Best Intentions." The result was blessed with luminous performances, with Pernilla August and Samuel Froler repeating their roles from "Best Intentions," but it was also as oppressive as it was impressive.

With their second director-writer collaboration "Faithless," which the Samuel Goldwyn Co. opens Friday at selected theaters, Ullmann has scored an unalloyed triumph, vividly depicting the full, wrenchingly painful impact of marital infidelity and divorce. Streaked with dark humor as well as poignancy, "Faithless" has a shattering emotional effect.

On a recent stopover at a West Hollywood hotel on her way to the Palm Springs Film Festival, Ullmann talked about making "Faithless" and about her life today. Her Hollywood foray, the 1973 misfired musical remake of "Lost Horizon," today yields fond memories of her mentor, Hollywood veteran Signe Hasso, whom Ullmann regards as Sweden's greatest actress.

Ullmann, one of the screen's natural beauties, is at 61 as radiant and vital as ever. Accompanying her is Donald Saunders, a prominent Boston real estate developer and hotel owner. Saunders and Ullmann were married in 1985, divorced amicably in 1998 and have remained as delightful a couple as when they were first engaged. Interviewing Ullmann is like catching up with an old friend.

"The film was a very difficult film to make," Ullmann concedes. "Ingmar had written 'Faithless' as a monologue. I developed it into a script, but I never changed any of his lines. He told me he didn't want to direct it himself and said, 'I need a woman's point of view.' I asked him: 'What if I do it, and you don't like it?' But he was not worried about that and has said that he thinks it is a very fine film." When Ullmann suggests that "Faithless" may represent Bergman's most personal work you cannot help but feel that the same could be said of her.

"Faithless" stars Lena Endre as a successful actress, Marianne, married to Markus (Thomas Hanzon), a conductor on the brink of a brilliant international career. They are both 40ish, and their closest friend is David (Krister Henriksson), a film director a little older than they. David, who has considerable charm, has a reckless streak and seems to take a fairly nonchalant stance toward career uncertainties and a messy private life. These qualities make him all the more attractive to Marianne at a time when Markus is increasingly absent and she is facing the challenge of preparing for her next play. A casual fling ignites an unexpected grand passion. The triangle unfolds from the point of view of an older man, called Bergman (Erland Josephson), who lives a lonely life full of regrets on a remote island. As the drama proceeds, the actress in whom he is confiding becomes Marianne, the character they're discussing. Josephson has often appeared as Bergman's on-screen alter ego, and "Faithless" was inspired by a long-ago act of infidelity on Bergman's part.

*

It's easy enough to see that the screen Bergman expresses the anguish of the real Bergman, but Ullmann assures you that the vulnerable Markus and the seemingly glib and facile David are also Ingmar. "All of the characters are him, that's always the case," Ullmann says. "I don't think he would have gone so far as to include the Bergman character in the film had he directed it--but maybe he would have. The daughter was hardly there in the monologues, but I made her more important. I wanted to show how the breakup of a marriage or a relationship affects a child. Erland Josephson's Bergman is brought face to face with his past. Bergman is really burdened with what happened to specific women in his life. Someday, he may feel that way about his children too." (Bergman has fathered eight children by five wives and several lovers.)

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