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Review: Saraband

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Ingmar Bergman supposedly retired from filmmaking back in the early 1980s. Though Saraband is being touted as a brand-new Bergman film, an epilogue to his Scenes from a Marriage (1973), it probably belongs more to the realm of drama than of film. Based, like much of the original Scenes, around a series of two-person interactions, the story begins with a now sixty something Marianne (Liv Ullmann) visiting her aging ex-husband Johan (Erland Josephson) at his new country home. Though they’ve been divorced for decades, the first film’s charming intimacy is in full force in these early scenes. But Saraband‘s real focus isn’t on Johan and Marianne; it’s on the strange, co-dependent relationship between Johan’s son Henrik (Borje Ahlstedt) and his musician daughter Karin (Julia Dufvenius), which borders on incest.
    First, the good news: Josephson and Ullmann, despite their advanced age (he noticeably suffers from Parkinson’s), still mesmerize. However, what made Bergman’s greatest work so striking was its energy: Even his most grim films had an uncanny vitality that belied his reputation as a humorless, plodding Swede. Here, however, he’s lost a step. Dufvenius’s frenzied histrionics are out of place among her understated elders. We can feel her working up the acting fervor to match these giants; but ironically, that very fervor cripples her performance. This might be an intentional ploy on Bergman’s part — to emphasize how the presence of youth can disrupt old age — but it results in awkwardness.
    Similarly, the director never quite finds a way out of the static two-person interactions that make up the film: His style here is a far cry from the nervous energy of Scenes from a Marriage. A couple of early camera moves prove to be a bit of a ruse. Mostly, Saraband is relentlessly still, and, despite some early moments of intimacy, surprisingly impersonal. Indeed, it suggests that Bergman’s reputation may have finally caught up with him. — Bilge Ebiri

Review: Doing Time, Doing Vipassana
A gaunt cow, alone in a courtyard but for a swarm of harassing birds, flashes onto the screen early in this new documentary about India’s high-security Tihar prison. Here, meditation is thought to have the power to rehabilitate even hardened criminals. That initial shot serves as the film’s metaphor: No citizen is a sacred cow. Only someone born lucky and left untried can think that civic virtue requires no help to sustain it. Such ideas came to Tihar, then a draconian hellhole, in 1993, along with Inspector General Kiran Bedi, India’s first female police officer and a maverick in jail reform. “She made clear the thin line between us officers and the prisoners,” one jailer recalls. “All of us have made blunders in life. Thank God, we are not in here. Unfortunately, they are.”
    Empathy aside, Bedi aimed to produce lasting change in Tihar’s 10,000 prisoners, from accused drug runners to convicted murderers. She offered everyone — first guards, then inmates — the chance to learn Vipassana (insight), a Buddhist technique for self-control. In ten-day sessions requiring absolute silence, inmates learned to observe their feelings without reacting: to take responsibility for themselves, and their crimes. Interviewed alumni, including a Somali, a Briton and an Australian (all English speakers jailed for drug running), hit the same grace note: doing Vipassana gave them a new sense of responsibility for their fate, and remorse.
    Unfortunately, the film abandons Vipassana graduates once they’ve been freed. We’re left wondering if the program produced lasting change in ex-convicts, in India and elsewhere (like Taiwan and America, where Vipassana has been tried in several jails). Still, the film makes a strong case for at least considering Vipassana as a rehabilitation technique. Surely it has as much potential for long-term reform as the production of another license plate. — Susan Comninos
Date DVD #40: The Twilight Zone: Season 3, The Definitive Edition
Why is this geeky box set the perfect date DVD? First, it’s long. Second, this week’s other releases (The Pacifier, Hide and Seek, Prozac Nation) just won’t cut it. Third, if you’re a pallid, skinny, vaguely creepy dude who speaks with a clipped Protestant baritone, there’s no better romantic role model than Rod Serling.
    I know he’s not a typical leading man, but that’s because Serling’s charisma exists in a fith dimension. As he would say, it’s as vast as space and as timeless as infinity, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. And, yes, those nerdy slim-fit IRS-agent suits are back in style.
    Don’t believe me? How can you not love the terrifically self-aware line that sums up the episode “To Serve Man”?
    “The recollections of one Michael Chambers, with appropriate flashbacks and soliloquy. Or more simply stated, the evolution of man, the cycle of going from dust to dessert, the metamorphosis from being the ruler of a planet to an ingredient in someone’s soup. It’s tonight’s bill of fare on the Twilight Zone.”
    You’re swooning already, aren’t you? — Logan Hill

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