Liv Ullmann quickly became one of Ingmar Bergman's favourite actors. Her soulful, haunting beauty persisted through "Persona" (1966), "Cries and Whispers" (1972), "Scenes From a Marriage" (1973), "Face to Face" (1975), and "Autumn Sonata" (1977), and she thus became a byword for Bergman.
One of the few facts known about the reclusive Bergman in recent years is that he provided Ullmann with the script for "Private Confessions", which she directed in 1996. He has now done likewise for "Faithless", a film which apparently owes not just a little to an episode in his own life. The story - which is narrated by its characters to an author called Bergman - follows the excitement, then shock-waves, and finally emotional and mental collapse caused by an affair between a successful female actor and her conductor husband's best friend. As the three characters play roles in what is an adult game of an increasingly dark sort - a battle between fidelity and desire - the couple's nine-year-old daughter, Isabelle, becomes confused and anxious, finding no proper role for herself.
Cinema is rarely more assured than this. Actors and director are in perfect harmony, with the former revealing a real understanding of the latter's intelligence and purpose. An esteemed actor herself, Ullmann pulls deep emotions from every one of her cast, and all four leads strongly communicate the idea that contentment, while seeming to last forever, can be very brief indeed. So that the rawness of the experience really jumps off the screen, Ullmann adopts a measured, even calm approach, thus also allowing herself (and her cast) time to breathe life into the characters. Her style is unvarnished, almost plain, and is entirely free of interfering music. In fact the only music of any kind is occasional, relevant, and comes from a small music box. In other words, she feels absolutely no need to show off since she knows she's at the peak of her form. A mesmerising slow-burner of the first order.