Sarabanddir, Ingmar Bergman,out now: Ingmar Bergman, after nearly twenty years of silence, has spoken again, with a new film,Saraband, showing at the National Film Theatre throughout next week. Even during his 1950s heyday, Bergman, most famous for The Seventh Seal (1957), must have cut a striking, if somewhat daunting, figure. Spiritual to the point of theological, his films seemed to spring directly from the existential crises of late 19th century European literature and philosophy. Yet his ability to craft visual images that swiftly acquired iconic status marked him out as a true master in the age of cinema.Originally made for Swedish television two years ago, Saraband picks up from where Scenes From a Marriage (1973) left off. Divided into ten dialogues between four characters, the film opens with a monologue from Marianne (played with beautifully fraught serenity by the director’s erstwhile muse, Liv Ullmann), who declares her intention to visit her elderly former husband Johan (Erland Josephson). Arriving at his rural retreat, she soon discovers that he is embroiled in the traumatic fallout from the death of Anna, wife of his estranged son, Henrik (Borjhe Ahlstedt). Henrik’s obsessive love for his wife is now directed to his 19 year old daughter, Karin (JuliaDufvenius). A prodigiously gifted cellist, Karin comes to realise that her father’s stifling attentions have crushed rather than nurtured her talents, and her attempts to escape him constitute the chief narrative thread.That Bergman, 86, is still alive and making feature-length films in the 21st century might be seenby some as achievement enough. Given this feat of endurance, it’s possible that anything he produces might be swamped by the audience’s gratitude, the work’s artistic merits meaning less than the simple fact of the film’s existence. Happily, Saraband is much more than a museum piece. The dialogue occasionally feels staged, but more often it gives way to the claustrophobiclyricism that is often to be found in the work of Bergman’s successors, such as Lars von Triers. It is as Bergman’s final statement, though, that Saraband will ultimately be viewed. Johan and Marianne’s exchanges add humour and credibility to the weighty themes of mortality and forbidden love, familiar to Bergman fans. When Johan claims that he now has the answer sheet for his life, one almost gets the sense that Bergman has shifted the goalposts, cheekily allowinghimself the vantage point of a dead man, from which he can not only articulate his last thoughts but also satisfyingly close one of the most remarkable careers in the history of cinema.ARCHIVE: 3rd week MT 2005