Saturday, November 24, 2007
The original version of this article can be found at this link. The following is my slightly revamped version for Moon In The Gutter.
The passing of the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman earlier this year has no doubt drawn many newcomers to his vast body of work available on DVD. While many of the late master's best films are currently available, several of his finest works remain extremely hard to find. One of the most notable of these films is his masterful 1976 feature ANSIKTE MOT ANSIKTE (FACE TO FACE), although thankfully it appears that Criterion are currently at works on a DVD of it for 2008.
FACE TO FACE started out life as a Swedish mini-series, much in the same way that two of Bergman's most well regarded films had, SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (1973) and FANNY AND ALEXANDER (1982). The television version of FACE TO FACE, starring legendary Bergman muse Liv Ullmann, appeared originally in April 1976 to much acclaim as a 200 minute four part series. Bergman simultaneously cut the film down to a much slimmer 135 minute running time for its 1976 theatrical release.
The film, like many of Bergman's greatest works, focuses on an individual whose life and grip on reality is slowly slipping away. The film's leading character, played brilliantly by Ullmann, is a well regarded psychiatrist who is realizing that she has spent so much time delving into other people's psychosis that she has forgotten who she actually is. With a supporting cast featuring several Bergman regulars, including a remarkable Gunnar Bjornstrand and a young Lena Olin, FACE TO FACE is one of the great seventies films focusing on the loss of one's own identity in an increasingly cold and industrial world.
Chief among the film's many attributes is the remarkable cinematography by Sven Nykvist, who gives what could have been a very bland looking film an extremely striking and well thought out look. The Oscar winning Nykvist had just shot Louis Malle's underrated BLACK MOON (1975) when he shot FACE TO FACE, and it is to his credit that he was able to follow up Malle's surreal and strange film with Bergman's much more grounded and realistic work.
Also extremely noteworthy is the sound design of Owe Svensson, who manages to give this very quiet film a real spacious and at times warm soundscape. FACE TO FACE is a model on how a completely character driven piece should sound, and Svensson's work is the equal of his more celebrated design for Bergman's own CRIES AND WHISPERS (1972).
The cast is especially fine as well. Ullman has never been more brilliant than she is in this complicated role, and Olin is especially memorable in her brief screen debut here. Bergman would remember the talented Swedish beauty, and he would later cast her in his masterful later works FANNY AND ALEXANDER and AFTER THE REHEARSAL (1984).
The film was a major success when it came out, garnering two Academy Award nominations, including one for Bergman's direction and another for Ullmann's fearless performance. The film also won the Golden Globe's best foreign film award, and Ullmann was honored by many of the top film awards, including the Los Angeles and New York Critics Awards.
FACE TO FACE has had a troubling history on the Home Video market. Paramount is notorious for their mishandling of classic films in their library, and Bergman's great film has astonishingly never been given a proper home video release. Outside of a couple of foreign VHS versions, the only way to see the film has been through grey market versions or the occasional lucky theatrical screening. Hopefully the upcoming Criterion version will include both Bergman's original television version, as well as the shorter theatrical cut, as they did on their exceptional releases for SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE and FANNY AND ALEXANDER.
The passing of Ingmar Bergman marked a great loss for the cinema world, and it is time to make sure his work is preserved for future generations to see. FACE TO FACE remains one of Bergman's greatest, if most under seen works, and is chief among his films in need of a quality re-release. Hopefully the rumor on the upcoming Criterion edition is true, and this powerful film will be available again soon for film fans to see.