1976 / Best Director

Film #561: Face to Face (1976)

We continue to the second part of our Bergman double bill now with 1976’s Face to Face which, at just under two hours, was a lot more digestible than Fanny and Alexander. The film also featured a fantastic Oscar-nominated performance from Liv Ullmann who deserved not only her nomination but a win for a film in which she appeared in every single scene.

Ullmann plays Dr Jenny Isaksson, who at the start of the film is a seemingly successful psychiatrist who has just began a two month secondment as head of a local hospital. Jenny’s new job coincides with the fact that her daughter is away at camp whilst her husband is on business in America. Due to the fact that her family are away Jenny goes to stay with the grandparents who brought her up after her parents died in a car crash. Jenny later meets Tomas at the party of a colleague’s ex-wife and the pair begin to spend time together with the hint that they will soon begin a romantic affair together. But at the same time Jenny begins to experience hallucinations and feels increasingly exhausted in both her professional and personal lives. This leads to a rather dramatic event which results in her escaping into a dream world of sorts in which she is forced to wear red and deal with some of the more traumatic incidents of her youth. Whilst these sort of dream elements and ghostly encounters were dealt with in Fanny and Alexander, in Face to Face they dominate the second half of the film and I for one really enjoyed them. By the end of the film it seems that Jenny has dealt with the ghosts of her past although at the same time her family life has been fractured by what has occurred early on in the film.

With both Cries and Whispers and Fanny and Alexander being set in the past, it was nice to see Bergman deal with more a more contemporary story. But at the same time you could see that this was definitely a film from Bergman particularly in the use of the colour red which was incredibly prominent in Cries and Whispers as well as in the first third of Fanny and Alexander. Here Jenny dresses in red throughout her dream sequences in order for the audience to differentiate between the dream world and the real world. It also adds a sense of discomfort to these scenes as Jenny feels more and more out of place as she is haunted by her past. I really enjoyed the way that Bergman played with the audience’s perception of reality as we entered the horrors of Jenny’s subconscious. However the best thing about Face to Face is the excellent performance from Liv Ullmann who dominates the screen as Jenny. The fact that she’s in every scene and is able to convey her character’s fears excellently suggested to me that she was more deserving of the Best Actress Oscar than that year’s winner Faye Dunaway. Ullmann and Bergman were the only two nominees from Face to Face at that year’s Oscars however I would have liked to have seen Sven Nykvist nominated for his brave cinematography on this feature.

For now I will leave the question on whether or not Face to Face deserved to be featured in the Best Picture list as there’s another Best Director movie from 1976 yet to see. But I will say that I was completely entranced by this picture about madness and perceptions of reality to the extent that I enjoyed it more than the critically lauded Fanny and Alexander. Through these two films I’ve gathered more of an appreciation of Bergman’s work and I’m glad that this Best Director journey has allowed me to look at the works of directors that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise.

Next time we travel to Germany for a claustrophobic film that, like Bergman’s films, has been released in several different versions.

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