Liv Ullmann Directs Ingmar Bergman's Faithless

Faithless is a script Ingmar Bergman wrote late in life, a very introspective, even autobiographical one. And yet he chose not to direct it. Instead he gave it to his longtime lover and star Liv Ullmann, who by that time had already made several films of her own. It was first issued on DVD in the UK by Tartan, and then in the USA by First Look. It's long been stated that while the film is rather long, roughly two and a half hours, that the import DVD features an even longer "international cut" (for example, they list it on the film's dvdcompare page) That's the version I always had, but I recently picked up a copy of the US DVD to see what's so different about the two versions, since I can't find any site anywhere that specifies. And I was rather surprised by what I found.

Update 11/22/15 - 4/27/22:
Throw those DVDs in the garbage!  A far superior new blu-ray has just been released by the BFI.  Bam!
Ullmann cast one of Bergman's best staple actors, Erland Josephson (Scenes From a Marriage, Face To Face, etc) to play the lead, and wow does that pay off. This is a very grounded film of long, steady close-ups and realistic human emotion, and Josephson can bring the power to that like very few actors in film history. He plays Bergman, an isolated film director who lives alone on an island writing scripts about the loves and infidelities of his past, and conjures up his former lover (played by Lena Endre) to retell their entire story from her point of view (though there's a surprising and moving shift in perspective in the third act). What makes it work is that it's very strong emotional subject matter handled very honestly and subtly. It's not melodrama, in fact the first half or so is very slow moving; but by the end: "oof!"
You could certainly accuse Ullmann of imitating Bergman's style here, but that's hardly a bad thing considering how well it works; and it's especially appropriate given that this is not only his writing, but a story seen through the eyes of himself as a filmmaker. Although I also noticed touches that I'm sure Ullmann put in there that Bergman never would have.  In fact, the fact that this story focuses more on the children of the destroyed relationship, something Bergman has often glossed over, lends considerably more dramatic power.  It might be a bold admission, but I consider Faithless, a film not directed by Bergman, to be one of the very top Bergman films.
One of Bergman's many crossed paths with A Dream Play.
Okay, now here's the story with the "international cut:" there's no such thing, at least not on Tartan's DVD. I watched both country's DVDs side by side and there isn't a single deviation or extra scene, shot or trimming. It's 100% the same movie. There are a few factors about the running time that probably added some confusion to the mix. First, naturally, there's the whole PAL/ NTSC business. Also, the US DVD has a couple trailers on it, and they're on the disc as one long video file with the main feature, so the running time on your player is actually adding the time of the movie and the trailers together for one larger sum. There's also different company logos in front of the opening credits and all. So, actually just looking at the movies themselves, the UK disc runs about 148 minutes, and the US is about 154... not 142 like it says on the back of the case. I believe that misprint is entirely at fault for the idea of there being more than one version of the film. Account for PAL speed-up, and they're the same length.
1) 2003 US First Look DVD; 2) 2001 UK Tartan DVD; 3) 2022 UK BFI BD.


And as you can see, the two DVDs have very different looks, as indeed does the new blu. The UK DVD has a very high-contrast (crushed, even) look suggesting it was taken from a film print, whereas the US DVD has a much more natural look, seemingly taken from the negative. That's great for the US disc, but unfortunately, it's full-screen, and not even open matte. It's an old school "chop the sides off" job. The UK disc is slightly pillar-boxed to about 1.74:1, and it's anamorphic, which is a relief. But both discs are a heavy compromise. If only we could've gotten the best of both worlds, we'd have had a pretty nice looking release.

Well, now we have even better than the best of both previous worlds.  We have a properly widescreen 1.85:1 transfer.  And the fresh 2k scan is of the original 35mm negative (and according to the booklet, a bit taken from the 35mm duplicating positive).  There is just so much more detail and clarity, as well as more photo realistic coloring, the screenshots really speak for themselves even if you don't bother to click through to the full resolution versions.  Just look.

All three discs feature the original Swedish stereo mix, but the new lossless version on the BFI blu sounds more robust and authentic.  They've also added a DTS-HD 5.1 mix.  Oh, and also the English subtitles are removable, which is more than can be said for the burnt in ones on the Tartan disc.
The US disc only has a couple of trailers for extras, though at least one of those is the actual Faithless trailer. The UK disc has the trailer and a bunch of bonus ones, too, but it also has the very substantial bonus feature of an on-camera interview with Liv Ullmann. It's pretty in-depth, lasting over 31 minutes.

BFI now, has really turned it into a special edition.  First of all, yes, they have kept the Tartan interview and they still have the trailer, so no ground lost.  They've also added a new, expert audio commentary by critic Adrian Martin, and it's excellent.  No dead space and a lot of information and insight, including some readings from Bergman's autobiography that sync up surprisingly specifically with this film.  Then, there are two more interviews with Ullmann, both are on-stage and last over an hour each.  There is some unfortunate redundancy, and it would have been nice if somebody could've edited these so we wouldn't be hearing the same 5-6 minute anecdotes repeated practically verbatim.  That's downright punishing to sit through.  But you'll be rewarded, because each interview also has a lot of unique content, with fun anecdotes about her career and insight into Faithless.  There are also two stills galleries and a hefty, full-color, 34-page booklet including two essays, a director's statement and interview with Ullmann.
So the international cut seems a myth. I mean, okay, maybe there's another version out there somewhere that runs longer, however beyond early assemblies or workprints, I'd be surprised if that's the case. But despite there only being one cut of the film, the home video releases are quite different. There's no question which is the winner now, though.  BFI's new blu is a beaut that puts the old editions to shame.  Faithless is a masterpiece, and this is a must-own.

Now where's Private Confessions?

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