this engrossing 154-minute study of marriage and infidelity, scripted by Ingmar Bergman and, as with many of his earlier films made in this lengthy mold, originally shown on Swedish television. Erland Josephson (Ullmann's great co-star in SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE and so many others) stars, but does not dominate, as Bergman, an elderly writer who, in searching for a new topic to write about, begins communicating with a fictional projection of one of his own past lovers, whom he named "Marianne Vogler." As he casts questions out into the silence of his study, like hooks with so many lures, Marianne (Lena Endre) materializes to answer candidly whatever he dares to ask, whatever he dares to know. She painstakingly guides him through the story of her happy 11-year marriage to Markus (Thomas Hanzon), a world-famous orchestra conductor; her relationship with their daughter Isabelle (Michelle Gylemo); and her friendship with Markus' best friend David (Krister Henriksson), until her caring attempts to steer him free of a potentially suicidal depression and disconnection from reality lead them into an affair.
This being Bergman's story, the lessons learned from this misstep are not just severe, but serially severe; however, under Ullmann's direction, the performances have a somewhat warmer and eccentric quality that are not afraid to introduce humor into some unlikely places. When Markus surprises the two lovers at David's apartment, their half-naked embarrassment in his presence prompts tiny outbursts of involuntary laughter, but as the scene steps back from the individual close-ups to take in the entire dynamic, we can see that Markus' presence has popped the balloon of whatever drew them together, whether it was mystery, boredom or the sense of following through with a trusted companion into an experience many adults feel is obligatory. With Markus in the room with them again, they are changed back to the friends they originally were, and it is their sudden embarrassment with each other that causes their laughter, rather than shame in the presence of Markus. The wronged husband seems to take the discovery well, but he turns vindictive as he launches into a fight for their daughter's custody, and it is ultimately Marianne's betrayal of her family, rather than her husband individually, that proceeds to destroy her -- that and what the increasingly cruel David gives the clinical description of his "retrospective jealousy," which exists to arouse him as surely as he means it to punish what he has come to see as his property.
The film is, above all, a tour de force for Lena Endre (most recently seen here as the assistant editor of Millennium magazine in the GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO trilogy), whose work here encourages all manner of fantasies about how magnificently she might have fared in any of the earlier roles Bergman wrote and directed for Liv Ullmann, had she been born earlier. The temptation to think along these lines is further encouraged by a short glimpse of a photograph inside "Bergman"'s desk drawer, supposedly the real woman in his past who inspired this fictional character. We see only the bottom part of her face before he pushes it back under some other papers, not willing to confront that much truth. I may be wrong, but it might be a photograph of Ullmann herself. If so, FAITHLESS becomes that much more fascinating as a conscious collaboration of writer and director; if not, it doesn't matter, because it remains a haunting diorama of uniquely female suffering, as we chart the wounds inflicted upon this woman (and upon her young daughter, as well) by the selfish passions of the men she has chosen.
Viewed on Netflix.