Marriage brings spirituality down to earth. That is one of the messages of The Best Intention, directed by Bille August. The screenplay by Ingmar Bergman is based on the story of his own parents' troubled but steadfast relationship.

Anna (Pernilla August) is an impetuous, vivacious, and stubborn young woman who has grown up in the warm bosom of her upper-class family, the apple of her father's (Max von Sydow) eye. When Anna falls in love with Henrik (Samuel Froler), a poor and emotionally chilly seminary student, her domineering mother (Ghita Norby) opposes the relationship. At the same time, Henrik's needy mother (Mona Malm) is put off by what she perceives to be Anna's airs. Over the objections of both families, the young people marry.

Called to a rural parish, Henrik expends most of his energies serving his congregation, and Anna tries to be his helpful companion. His pastoral skills are tested when they take in an unruly youth who turns out to have a demonic streak. Later, Henrik's inflexibility draws out the ire of a powerful businessman in the community. The Best Intentions accurately portrays the loneliness and financial burdens faced by those who dedicate themselves to serving others.

The chief theme of the film, however, is more personal. Bille August explores the effort that goes into making a marriage work. The spiritual challenge for this couple is dealing with the effect on their relationship of pride, class, and battles for control. By the end of the film, August and Bergman have made their point — forgiveness is love's daring response to the hurts and disappointments of life.