Saraband was to be my first real Bergman experience. The film was publicized as extremely slow and extremely beautiful and true - "yet another Bergman classic". I am allergic to film classics. I went to see it on the same principle as I read Hegel and Heidegger - to make sure I know why I don't like it.
I went with a couple of my friends, we were having a great time all day.
The film has a horrible poster of an elderly couple embracing. He has an old sweater, looks filthy, they are both as serious as any Nordic film couple should be. I figured this was one of Bergman's last films.
The experience was stunning. It certainly isn't a classic - thank God. It has a total simplicity about it which only apparently puts it in the bourgeois linage of Strindbergs and other Ibsens. Actually, it's much more delicate, sensitive, it does not play out any scandal (which I am very tired of), only shows how relations between people evolve.
There isn't much more, really. Yet it is the proportions, the subtle movements of the plot, that won me over. I found myself with a sort of enthusiastic empathy for the characters that I didn't know I could have. Yes, it's the artistic containment. But it is also the not-overdoing-it. The getting to what makes up a person.
What impressed me most was that I didn't find any of the annoying symbolism of Persona. There is no need for metaphysics if you look carefully enough into what is in front of you.
Saraband was Bergman's last film.
I have heard an anecdote about Bergman's severe approach to moviemaking: during one of the shootings, his cinematographer's mother fell very ill and was said to be dying. The cinematographer wanted to go. Bergman looked at his long-time, faithful collaborator and said: "If you leave now, you son of a bitch, you can never come back!".
I don't know which film they were supposed to be shooting. But it simply couldn't have been Saraband.