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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
Directed by Daniel Bergman
First Run Features Home Video 08/92 DVD/VHS Feature Film
"I am forever living in my childhood," Ingmar Bergman has observed. He has written the screenplay for Sunday's Children, the third and perhaps last in a series of films about his family. Fanny and Alexander (1983) dealt with his maternal grandparents. The Best Intentions (1992) was about his parents' courtship and marital problems. The focus in Sunday's Children is on Bergman's love/hate relationship with his father.
In the opening scene of the film, set in the 1920s, eight-year-old Pu (Henrik Linnros) eagerly awaits the arrival at the country railroad station of his father Henrik (Thommy Berggren), a Lutheran pastor who has just preached before the King and Queen of Sweden. Yet once things settle down at their summer house, the boy feels strangely cut off from his authoritarian, moody, and emotionally chilly father.
However, being a child born on Sunday, Pu is an inquisitive, sensitive, and clairvoyant boy who has visions and can see ghosts. In his meanderings, he watches a boy his age suck his mother's breast; he listens to a cook's story about a local watchmaker who committed suicide; he winces at the slaughter of a calf; and he endures another humiliation at the hands of his older brother. "Close your mouth," adults tell Pu. "It makes you look stupid." Who wouldn't let his mouth drop open encountering such a rich stew of experiences and feelings?
After overhearing a late-night argument in which his mother (Lena Endre) threatens to leave his father, Pu decides out of sympathy for the man to accompany him on a trip to another village for the Festival of the Transfiguration. Two incidents will stick in the heart and the mind of the young boy touchstones to both the hatred and the love for his father.
After seeing Pu dangle his legs in the water off a ferry, Henrik flies into a rage and slaps him hard on the face. Then on the long trip home, they are caught in a terrible thunderstorm. Pu thinks the Day of Judgment has arrived. His father wraps his coat around Pu in a gesture of tender love.
Between these poignant scenes, the film leaps forward to 1968 when an elderly Henrik, who has lost his faith and is feeble as he faces down death, asks his middle-aged son, "What did I do wrong?" Pu responds that everyone, including his mother, was terrified of his anger. Although his father seeks forgiveness, Pu is unwilling to give it.
Sunday's Children, directed by Daniel Bergman, Ingmar's son, is a moving and powerful film. It makes it clear how some indelible experiences from childhood stay with and haunt us all our lives. The drama also portrays the pain and confusion which lingers in the hearts of sons who have not reconciled themselves to both the failure and the heroism in their father's lives. this absorbing movie is sure to have a long shelf life as a teaching tool for men trying to come to terms with their own wounded father inside.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
The Most Spiritually Literate Films of:
"I have always had the ability to attach my demons to my chariot. And they have been forced to make themselves useful. At the same time, they have still managed to keep on tormenting and embarrassing me in my private life," writes Ingmar Bergman in Images: My Life in Film (Arcade, $27.95, ISBN 1-55970-186-2). In this fascinating volume, the acclaimed and prolific Swedish director looks back over his 40 years of work for the screen. He admits that many plots for his 50 films were drawn from his dreams, neuroses, fears, obsessions, and enchantments.
Bergman relishes The Seventh Seal as "one of the few films really close to my heart." He is still impressed with the cinematic experimentation in Persona and Cries and Whispers. The author comments on his constant fear of death and the source of his religious explorations. Bergman hurrahs the cinema of Tarkovsky and Fellini and graciously praises the actors and actresses who contributed so much to his movies.
Sunday's Children (Arcade, $16.95, ISBN 1-55970-244-3) by Ingmar Bergman is a novel which proves his skills as a gifted observer of family dynamics and the important relationship between fathers and sons. This is an essential purchase for all devotees of Bergman's inner journey, and it beautifully complements the screen version of the story.