Face to Face (1976)

Bergman fashions a character study as a penetrating psychoanalytic exercise featuring what could be Liv Ullmann’s most intensely vulnerable performance as a psychiatrist suffering from a severe mental breakdown.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Review #2,350

Dir. Ingmar Bergman
1976 | Sweden | Drama | 114 mins | 1.66:1 | Swedish
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for a sexual assault and sexual references

Cast: Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, Aino Taube, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Kristina Adolphson
Plot: Dr Jenny Isaksson is a successful psychiatrist married to another successful psychiatrist. Staying with her grandparents while her family is away, Jenny starts to suffer from a mental breakdown.
Awards: Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film & Best Leading Actress (Oscars)
Distributor: Studiocanal

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Mental Breakdown; Psychoanalysis
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

Strangely enough, Face to Face isn’t in that humongous Ingmar Bergman boxset released by Criterion, probably due to problems with the licensing of rights. 

But hey, we have MUBI to save the day as this less talked about film of his from the 1970s is made available for streaming, at least in the territory where I’m in. 

Liv Ullmann stars as Dr Jenny Isaksson, a psychiatrist who suffers from an inexplicable mental breakdown, though it does seem like it has been a long time coming considering the stressors around her—her demanding job, declining marriage, past traumas, etc. 

Bergman fashions a character study out of her but treats it as a penetrating psychoanalytic exercise that in some segments veer into ‘horror’. These ‘dream sequences’ may feel dated and pretentious, no different to what we might experience in today’s cinema.

“If you force things to be as usual, they’ll be as usual. Don’t you think?”

But like his compatriot, Luis Bunuel, and even the likes of Alain Resnais, Bergman was one of a handful of auteurs during the arthouse cinema boom in the mid-20th century that developed the fundamentals of these kinds of scenes. 

Ullmann is in nearly every scene in Face to Face, and her work here could be her most intensely vulnerable performance.  Jenny’s despair, fear and frustration (mostly at herself) are captured by Sven Nykvist’s laser-focused camerawork, sometimes in long takes. 

Bergman isn’t afraid to subject us relentlessly to his protagonist’s frenzied mind; her reactions are wildly unpredictable yet there is still some glimmer of hope in her eyes—that as a psychiatrist herself, surely there is a way out of the dark rabbit hole. 

Here the title of the film doesn’t suggest an empathetic conversation between two persons; instead, it’s a brutal confrontation with the Self.

Grade: A-




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