Liv Ullmann Directs Ingmar Bergman's Faithless... The International Version?

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.
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.
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 movies 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.
2003 US DVD from First Look on top; 2001 UK DVD from Tartan below.
And as you can see, the to DVDs have very different looks, as well. 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 get the best of both worlds, we'd have a pretty nice looking release. As it is, you just have to pick which problem bugs you less. At least neither is interlaced. Oh, and also the subtitles are burnt in.
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, and should probably go some way towards deciding whether you opt for the import or not.
So the international cut is a myth. I mean, okay, maybe there's another version out there somewhere that runs longer, but I'd be surprised if that's the case. But despite there only being one cut of the film, the DVD releases are quite different. Personally, I prefer the Tartan DVD, for the framing and the bonus interview, but it's a compromise either way. It's a great film and should be seen in some capacity, so just pick your poison. Of course, the hope is that Criterion or some other label will come along and save the day by doing a top of the line blu-ray so we can put all these issues behind us. But I haven't heard of any in the pipeline, so I think we'll just have to settle for one of these. Hey, at least either release seems to be missing any footage.

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