-->
Reviews

A Beautiful Restoration of a Modern Classic: Bille August's 'The Best Intentions'

Bille August's The Best Intentions with a screenplay by Ingmar Bergman, offers a view of the tumultuous relationship of Bergman's parents


The Best Intentions

Director: Bille August
Cast: Pernilla August, Samuel Fröler, Max von Sydow, Ghita Nørby
Distributor: Film Movement
Studio: Sveriges Television
US Release Date: 2016-06

The DVD box for the Film Movement release of The Best Intentions carries the title Ingmar Bergman’s The Best Intentions, a somewhat puzzling choice, as there are no other well-known films bearing that name, and hence, no chance of confusing this film with another. It’s true that Bergman wrote the screenplay, but Bille August directed the film, and how often do screenwriters get billing over directors? Even granting that Bergman is the bigger name, particularly in the English-speaking world, August is certainly no unknown: he won the Palme d’Or for Pelle the Conqueror in 1987 before winning again for this film in 1992, and has directed a number of other successful films, including The House of the Spirits (1993) and Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1997).

The answer, I think, lies in the fact that The Best Intentions feels like a Bergman film, and it’s tempting to see it as a prequel to Bergman’s own Fanny and Alexander (1984). Both films were created as multi-part television movies that were edited down for theatrical release; both are lengthy and slow-paced but always involving, capturing the intensity of the tiniest moments of everyday life; both bear some relationship to Bergman’s life; and both are beautifully shot period films. However, while Fanny and Alexande is at best loosely autobiographical, The Best Intentions is explicitly so, focusing on the courtship and early years of marriage of Bergman’s parents, Erik Bergman (called “Henrik” in this film) Bergman and Karin Åkerblom (called “Anna” in this film).

The story takes place between 1909 and 1918, a period exquisitely recreated by Ann Mari Anttila (costumes), Khell Gustavsson (hair and makeup), Anna Asp (production design), and Anna-Lena Hansen (set decoration), and beautifully shot in Panavision by cinematographer Jörgen Persson. Henrik (Samuel Fröler) and Anna (Pernilla August) are not an obvious match: he’s a poor theology student with a tendency to take life a bit too seriously, while she’s the beautiful and vivacious daughter of a wealthy and cultured family. When Anna’s brother Ernst (Björn Kjellman) invites Henrik home to dinner, the economic and social gulf between them is obvious, and when Anna takes an interest in Henrik, her parents Johan (Max von Sydow) and Karin (Ghita Nørby) make it clear that he’s not a suitable choice for a husband.

Well, as the saying goes, the heart wants what the heart wants, and there are few forces more determined than young people in love. Even the best-intentioned parents may find that their offspring suddenly become hard of hearing when older and wiser heads advise that youthful lust is one thing while a lifetime partnership is quite another. When the opposition is obviously motivated by snobbery as well as concern about the happiness of one’s children, as is the case with the formidable Karin, the result may be like pouring gasoline, rather than water, on the fires of romance.

After a gap of a few years, Anna and Henrik marry, and she does her best to make the marriage work. When he accepts a job in a rural part of northern Sweden, she tries hard to fit in to a world quite different from the one she grew up in. He, of course, does not recognize her efforts, nor stops to consider that while he holds a prestigious position as pastor in the town, she’s stuck with washing the linens by hand and dealing with pregnancy without the benefit of her family nearby. Their conflict comes to a head when Henrik refuses a post in the south, while Anna is pregnant with their second child -- who would grow up to write the screenplay to this very film.

The Best Intentions is not kind to Henrik. The first time we meet him, he refuses to reconcile with his dying grandmother. While courting Anna, he continues to live with a working-class woman, Frida (Lena Endre). Above all, he’s a self-centered prig who believes self-denial is a virtue, rather than an occasional necessity endured in the service of some higher goal, and because he’s a man, he gets to enforce his beliefs upon his family.

If you are so inclined, there are several lessons that could be drawn from The Best Intentions. The first is the truth of that old saw about marrying in haste and repenting at leisure. It’s also easy in retrospect to see the wisdom of an opinion held by Anna’s parents, that you can avoid a lot of problems by marrying within your own class. From a more modern point of view, one obvious conclusion is that nothing good can come from a social system in which the volition of one adult in a relationship is by intention entirely subsumed under the volition of the other. But August and Bergman are not interested in teaching lessons or drawing morals; instead, they allow viewers to take this finely observed and exquisitely acted portrayal of a relationship and do with it what they will.

This release of The Best Intentions is based on a new 2K restoration that does full justice to the film’s splendid technical qualities and period detail. Publicity materials indicate that the Blu-ray release of The Best Intentions includes a Bergman short film, “Karin’s Face”, which has never before been released in the United States. This extra is not included on the DVD (from which I wrote this review), but the DVD does include an illustrated booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Peter Cowie, and trailers for several other films distributed by Film Movement.

7
Music

The Best Indie Rock of 2017

Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

Indie rock may be one of the most fluid and intangible terms currently imposed upon musicians. It holds no real indication of what the music will sound like and many of the artists aren't even independent. But more than a sonic indicator, indie rock represents a spirit. It's a spirit found where folk songsters and punk rockers come together to dialogue about what they're fed up with in mainstream culture. In so doing they uplift each other and celebrate each other's unique qualities.

With that in mind, our list of 2017's best indie rock albums ranges from melancholy to upbeat, defiant to uplifting, serious to seriously goofy. As always, it's hard to pick the best ten albums that represent the year, especially in such a broad category. Artists like King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had a heck of a year, putting out four albums. Although they might fit nicer in progressive rock than here. Artists like Father John Misty don't quite fit the indie rock mold in our estimation. Foxygen, Mackenzie Keefe, Broken Social Scene, Sorority Noise, Sheer Mag... this list of excellent bands that had worthy cuts this year goes on. But ultimately, here are the ten we deemed most worthy of recognition in 2017.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less
Music

The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Keep reading... Show less

It's ironic that by injecting a shot of cynicism into this glorified soap opera, Johnson provides the most satisfying explanation yet for the significance of The Force.

Despite J.J. Abrams successfully resuscitating the Star Wars franchise with 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, many fans were still left yearning for something new. It was comforting to see old familiar faces from a galaxy far, far away, but casual fans were unlikely to tolerate another greatest hits collection from a franchise already plagued by compositional overlap (to put it kindly).

Keep reading... Show less
7

Yeah Yeah Yeahs played a few US shows to support the expanded reissue of their debut Fever to Tell.

Although they played a gig last year for an after-party for a Mick Rock doc, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs hadn't played a proper NYC show in four years before their Kings Theatre gig on November 7th, 2017. It was the last of only a handful of gigs, and the only one on the East coast.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image