Private Confessions

Norbert Ruebsaat

A lot of people in the audience were talking during the screening of Ingmar Bergman's Private Confessions, the third installment of his family trilogy. Almost everyone in the theatre looked middle-aged or even elderly, which is rare in movies these days, and they sat in couples and threesomes spread evenly throughout the theatre, with a slight increase in density toward the back. The couple directly behind me talked frequently, the man commenting on a feature of the action (which was mostly dialogue) and the woman chuckling in response and then pointing out something else, which the man then acknowledged by saying "uhhmmm." I turned around a few times to indicate that they were disturbing me; this quieted them only for short periods. I felt awkward sitting alone, a single middle-aged man in an audience of couples and intimates. I noticed my body occasionally leaning forward in that expectant fashion when it seems as if the screen will reveal a secret. It was embarrassing to be repeating this choreography in full view of the two people behind me, who seemed so comfortable in their bodies and in their relationship that the proximity of large, imposing, sometimes loud images never stopped them from chatting amicably. The film, scripted by Bergman and directed by Liv Ullman, was about Bergman's mother, who had an affair while married to Bergman's father. She confessed the affair to an uncle, played by Max von Sydow; he told her to confess the affair to her husband, and she did. The husband went ballistic—a term I would not have used in the years I first saw Bergman's films. The wife broke up with her lover, went back to her husband and spoke to her uncle again ten years later when he was on his deathbed. During this final conversation she revealed nothing about her married life in those ten years. The film was structurally a disaster, but the strength of its style kept me on the edge of my seat for the whole 127 minutes. I read the English subtitles while listening to the actors speak Swedish, a language that on this occasion sounded surprisingly like German. I know German, and I found myself "understanding" more of the dense dialogue than I had ever understood in my youth. When the film was over, the man behind me remarked to his companion that the film had "gotten a bit long-winded." She did not answer this but began speaking about an entirely different topic, to which the man responded by saying "uhhmmm." It was as though the film was continuing in its frequent emphasis of silences and pauses in conversations. When we walked into the foyer of the theatre, I looked at myself and other middle-aged and elderly people in the twelve-foot-high mirror on one wall, and then at the mural above it, which shows a film projector portraying the image of a young couple.

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Norbert Ruebsaat

Norbert Ruebsaat has written many articles for Geist. He lived in Vancouver and taught at Simon Fraser University.


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