Saturday, December 03, 2005

Ingmar Bergman and the Society of Jesus.

Last night Jake and I attended a screening of Ingmar Bergman's Saraband at the DFT. The octogenarian Bergman has said that Saraband, which he wrote and directed for Swedish television, is his final film. As is often the case, this last work of a great artist isn't quite on the level of the earlier work that cemented his reputation. A sequel to Bergman's 1973 classic Scenes from a Marriage, Saraband shows what happens when the couple from the earlier film (played by Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson) briefly come together again three decades after their divorce. On a lark, Marianne (Ullmann) decides to pay an unannounced visit to her aging ex-husband Johan (Josephson) at his summer cottage in the Swedish countryside. Though Johan expresses annoyance at Marianne's sudden appearance, he doesn't seem to object when she moves in with him for several months and concerns herself with the problems of Henrik (Börhe Ahlstedt), Johan's son from another marriage, and Henrik's teenage daughter Karin (Julia Dufvenius), who live nearby. A former orchestra conductor whose life has started to unravel since his beloved wife Anna died of cancer, Henrik spends much of his time giving cello lessons to his daughter. Karin possesses sufficient talent to win admission to prestigious conservatories, but Henrik's ambivalence about letting her go generates considerable friction.

Saraband ends up being more about Henrik and Karin than it is about Marianne and Johan, as the latter characters spend much of their time reacting to the conflict between father and daughter. With only four characters and the structure of a stage play, Saraband is hardly an ambitious film. While viewing it, the thought occurred to me that Saraband is the kind of film an elderly writer-director may be naturally inclined to make - small in scale and concerned more with the past than the present. As I suggested in the previous paragraph, Saraband is hardly among Bergman's greatest films. In spite of the caliber of the director and actors involved, Saraband isn't even a particularly affecting or memorable film - it's adequate film, but that's about it. Nonetheless, as Bergman's last it necessarily serves as a kind of coda to his body of work. In that sense, I suppose, Saraband is significant not so much in itself but in terms of its relationship to its creator's life.

On a side note, I should point out the incidental connection between the work of Ingmar Bergman and my own Jesuit vocation. I can't say that Bergman has influenced me in any particular way, though I've appreciated his films (Wild Strawberries, Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light are my favorites). However, when I was a candidate for the Society I discovered that one of the world's foremost Bergman scholars is Canadian Jesuit Father Marc Gervais, a longtime film professor at Montreal's Concordia University and a regular at the Cannes Film Festival. Though I've never met Gervais and I can't say he had anything more than a neglible impact on my vocation, the fact that the Society of Jesus has room for a Bergman scholar has always impressed me. In the same way, I've always been impressed by the existence of Jesuit architects, astronomers, biologists, geologists, mathematicians, photographers, sculptors and the like. In the Society of Jesus, one finds a group of men dedicated to finding and serving God in a multiciplicity of ways. I've heard it said that practically every ordained member of the Society is in some sense "a hyphenated priest" - a priest-artist, a priest-doctor, a priest-social worker, a priest-teacher, or what have you. The creativity and the diversity that can be found in the Society of Jesus helped bring me here. I have no ambition of becoming an expert on the films of Ingmar Bergman like Marc Gervais, but I'm proud that there are Jesuits like him. It is partly to such men - the "hyphenated priests" of the Society - that I owe my vocation. AMDG.


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