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Face to Face 
Written by: on August 8th, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: Sweden, 1975
Approximate running time: various run times 114-136mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1 Full Frame
Language: Swedish

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Writer: Ingmar Bergman
Cinematography: Sven Nykvist
Cast: Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, Aino Taube, Gunnar Björnstrand, Kristina Adolphson, Marianne Aminoff, Gösta Ekman, Helene Friberg, Ulf Johansson, Sven Lindberg, Jan-Eric Lindquist, Birger Malmsten, Sif Ruud, Göran Stangertz, Lena Olin

“Check your dreams over the next few weeks after seeing it and you’ll find fragments of this film corroding your conscience.”Time Out, London

In a world of incurable neurotics and lunatics works Dr Jenny Isaksson (Ullmann), a successful psychiatrist who recently has been promoted at the urban psychiatric clinic where she is employed. Her marriage, with another psychiatrist, is not good at all (the theme of incompatibility of spouses) so when she meets a certain Dr Tomas Jacobi (Josephson) at a party she accepts his flirtings and invitations. It turns out that Tomas’ half-sister Maria is one of Jenny’s patients. One day, when Jenny is to see Maria she is raped, beaten and verbally abused by two men in her own apartment. That traumatic experience is the off-set for Jenny’s hell…It turns out that the rape is the trigger to reveal dark, hidden secret’s from Jenny’s traumatic childhood.

Not for the fragile, Face to Face (1975) is a nerve wrecking exploration of the gradual mental breakdown of a psychiatrist culminating in her stark raving madness, attempted suicide and development of schizophrenia. It is, in my opinion, Bergman’s best psychodrama of the 70s, from the cycle that began with The Passion of Anna in 1970 and finished with Autumn Sonata in 1978, even surpassing Cries and Whispers (1972). Face to Face is a piece of mind-bending art from a director in top form. It is an assault on the senses and its aftermath will remain in your guts and brain for a long time. The nightmare and hallucination sequences are strikingly beautiful in their lush red colour schemes and fading backgrounds (echoing the Oscar winning photography of Cries and Whispers (1972)). Even the whispering voices are back in the corridors.

“Once upon a time there was a little girl. Every day she wandered through the splendid rooms and the long winding corridors. But she found no one to confide in. In the palace lived a wicked old woman and her even wickeder husband”

The cited words above are told by the narrator during a nightmare sequence where Jenny, in a crispy red dress, is wandering through the corridors of a creepy house – a sequence that, every time I watch it, makes me think of Suzy Banyon’s nightmarish wanderings in Suspiria. In another nightmare scene, Jenny “sees” herself lying in a coffin whereupon a black-gloved figure puts the lid on the coffin and hammers nails through it. The subsequent scene where one of Jenny’s personalities sets the coffin on fire, and we see her red coloured silhuette through the huge flames, makes me think of the skeleton seen through the flames in the last shot in Inferno.

Regardless whether you want to brand Face to Face a psychodrama or a horror movie, it is one of Bergman’s bleakest films, perhaps the bleakest of them all.

This review originally appeared at Dark Discussion and is reprinted here with permission.

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