Face to Face (1976) (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stuart Galbraith IV
  • Review Date: Jun 18, 2024
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Face to Face (1976) (Blu-ray Review)


Ingmar Bergman

Release Date(s)

1976 (February 28, 2024)


Cinematograph AB/Paramount (Imprint/Via Vision)
  • Film/Program Grade: B+
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: A
  • Extras Grade: B

Face to Face (1976) (Blu-ray)

Buy it Here!


[Editor’s Note: This is a Region-Free Australian Blu-ray import.]

One of the few Ingmar Bergman films not included in Criterion’s massive boxed set from a few years ago, Face to Face (Ansikte mot ansikte, 1976) arrives on Blu-ray through Australia’s Imprint label. (Apparently, Dino De Laurentiis’s company held most rights outside of Sweden, initially releasing the film in the U.S. through Paramount Pictures.)

As Bergman often did from Scenes from a Marriage (1974) forward, a longer television miniseries version of Face to Face was produced for Swedish television, which aired just prior to cut-down theatrical releases elsewhere. The TV version, airing in four parts, ran a total of 177 minutes, while this Blu-ray release is a theatrical cut running 135 minutes. Yet another theatrical release was even shorter, at 114 minutes. Further, the plot summary of the film on Wikipedia suggests the order of some scenes may have been rearranged in the various cuts.

The film, about a respected psychiatrist suffering a mental breakdown while staying at the home of her grandparents, features an outstanding performance by star Liv Ullman, though much of the last third of the film doesn’t really work despite Bergman’s and Ullmann’s best efforts.

Dr. Jenny Isaksson (Ullmann) is supervising the treatment of patients at a mental hospital while her daughter is away at summer camp and her husband is in America attending a conference. Since their family home is being sold and a new one in the process of being built, she temporarily moves in with her grandparents (Gunnar Björnstrand andAino Taube), who raised her there after her parents will killed in an automobile accident.

Back in her old bedroom, she is disturbed by dreams of an old, one-eyed woman, her sightless eyeball eerily black, like an oil slick, hovering over her. At a party she meets another doctor, Tomas (Erland Josephson), who flirts with her, inviting her to dinner and later to his home. Jenny both encourages and pushes away his advances. Soon after, Jenny returns to her empty former house to find her patient Mari (Kari Sylwan), who escaped from the mental hospital, along with two criminal types who attempt to rape but are unable to penetrate Jenny. She later suffers a breakdown at Tomas’s home while telling him about the assault. She seems to recover somewhat after a few days, but then attempts suicide by swallowing an entire bottle’s worth of barbiturates.

Like Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence (1974) and Keiko Matsuzaka in the recently-reviewed The Sting of Death (1990), Liv Ullmann’s performance is similarly harrowing and clinically authentic. Like Rowlands and Matsuzaka, Ullmann’s a fearless, soul-bearing achievement significantly compensates for the film’s problems.

I found the first half of Face to Face superior to Bergman’s earlier Scenes from a Marriage, also starring Ullmann and Josephson, but felt the artifice of Jenny’s dreams, hallucinations, and subconsciousness, a good 45 minutes-worth of the picture’s running time, mostly in the second half, overwrought and counterproductive. Throughout his career but in the 1970s and ‘80s particularly, Bergman incorporated conventions of the legitimate stage into his films, sometimes for short sequences, sometimes entire films built around theater material. The first appearances of the old, one-eyed woman are haunting and effective, much like the ghosts that unexpectedly appear in Bergman’s later Fanny and Alexander, but in Face to Face all these subconscious scenes are too protracted, too literal and overtly symbolic at the same time, and for the movie audience come off like they’re sitting in the first row watching a play rather than a film. Already engrossed watching, indeed almost vicariously experiencing Jenny’s mental anguish, the artificial quality of these scenes takes us out of the experience instead of drawing us in further. It’s the kind of material that’s almost impossible to pull off for long stretches in movies; Akira Kurosawa, in Dreams (1990), couldn’t quite manage it, either.

What’s unfortunate is that all the “conscious” material with Jenny, everything in “reality,” is prime Bergman. Josephson’s character, gradually revealed as bisexual, is an unusual but interesting one. Longtime Bergman player Gunnar Björnstrand is excellent andAino Taube, as his wife, is especially good. The basic core of story, that these elderly grandparents, warm and welcoming if fragile in their old age, scarred Jenny as a child with their old-fashioned strictness and occasional cruelty—Jenny recalls being traumatized when they locked her in a closet—is powerful and believable, as is Jenny’s subtly unhappy reunion with her teenage daughter after the suicide attempt. That contrasts the appearance of Jenny’s parents in a dream—she working through issues unresolved by their untimely deaths—which falls completely flat, at least for me.

Imprint’s Region-Free Blu-ray release of Face to Face presents the 135-minute theatrical version in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1 widescreen, a 2019 restoration by StudioCanal. Cinematographer Sven Nykvist clearly composed shots with both this and the 4:3 TV aspect ratio in mind; nowhere does the framing seem too cramped. The LPCM 2.0 mono audio is excellent with surprising range, and the optional English subtitles excellent. An English-dubbed version is also included, though I can’t imagine anyone wanting to watch it that way.

Supplements consist of a new audio commentary track by writer-historian Michael Brooke and a new video essay by Kat Ellinger.

For Bergman completists, Face to Face is a must, despite getting so bogged down in its subconscious/dream sequences. Much of it is prime Bergman, and Liv Ullmann is a wonder to behold.

- Stuart Galbraith IV