Sunday, August 28, 2011

Liv Ullmann in Face to Face

Liv Ullmann received her second Best Actress nomination for playing Dr. Jenny Isaksson, a psychiatrist who's having a really ugly nervous breakdown. In my opinion, Liv Ullmann's Oscar win was a really near miss. She was obviously the critics' favorite that year, she had lots of sympathy because of her infamous Scenes from a Marriage snub. Many people expected her to win the Oscar, actually, she was the real front-runner of the race. I guess there were two reasons why she probably lost. First, that awful foreign language factor (which is a shame, if you ask me) plus the Hollywood superstar Faye Dunaway starred in a movie that the Academy was gaga over. If you ask me, it's a real shame that Liv doesn't have an Oscar.

Now I am going to be 100% honest. Ingmar Bergman was/is the best director on this planet, in my humble opinion. However, for me Face to Face (despite its success at the Oscars) is one of his lesser works. There we go, I said it. I love depressing movies but this one is a bit too much. I mean, Bergman went beyond a certain point that he never should have crossed. That being said, it's still a pretty great film, it's just not as brilliant as some of Bergman's other works. It tells the story of Jenny's nervous breakdown in a very disturbing way and I don't think that it's an enjoyable piece for the viewer.

However, the movie depends on the always fantastic Liv Ullmann. What can you expect from the actress who gave the world Persona's Elisabeth Vogler, Autumn Sonata's Eva, Marianne of Scenes from a Marriage and other unforgettable characters? Nobody (and by that I really mean nobody) is/was able to suffer on the screen quite like Liv. She dives so deep inside pain and humility and as a result her performances become incredibly disturbing. Whenever she's on the screen, the charming real-life Liv disappears and her presence becomes incredibly brutal.

In her autobiographical book called Changing, Liv describes the journey of getting to know Jenny and also herself. We get to see there how stressful and difficult this part was for her (much more than we would think watching Liv in this movie). She says that Ingmar Bergman wrote the part of Jenny with her in his mind. Nobody is able to play this character the way Liv did it. It's just impossible to imitate her almost torturing acting style.

Whenever I see a very unpleasant performance, I always feel as if plasters were removed from my skin. However, while watching Liv Ullmann in Face to Face, I felt as if somebody opened up some my wounds and spilled hot acid on them. It's almost unbearable to watch Jenny going through her very painful journey. Liv covers such a wide variety of emotions that it's almost impossible to sense them for the first time.

We get to know Jenny as a very confident and content woman who's also very distant. She's very kind to everybody and yet I could always feel how cold she really is. It's incredible how Liv gradually added more and more disturbing depth to this character. Jenny's dreams are incredibly disturbing and that's mostly because of Liv's ghostlike, haunting presence. We get to see horrifying depth of a human being and it's just astonishing how much Liv understood this character.

In the effect of this performance it's very much like Sissy Spacek in In the Bedroom. They plant a tiny thought in your brain, which starts to grow and grow and eventually, it becomes incredibly haunting and disturbing. You're blown away not while watching them but way after them when you really think. And then it's just all unbelievably great.

Although Jenny's dreams are the most distrubing sequences of the movie, the parts with Erland Josephson are equally brilliant. The highlight of Liv's whole performance is a 10-minute-long breakdown where she remembers some horrible experiences. The way she switches to one memory to the other is just fantastic. Liv shows so many emotions and the horrifying mental state of Jenny. Liv gets so deep into the characters mind and she inhabits her character so brilliantly that I can't help wondering if it was actually Liv breaking down in front of the camera. I was so perplexed and terrified sometimes that I just started to laugh at the character. She disturbed me so much with her acting that I can't really describe my confusion. I can see why some might be distracted by this performance: the character has so many layers and the whole thing makes you feel very uncomfortable. And probably nobody really wants to watch this movie more than once.

Liv Ullmann, in short, is astonishing as Jenny Isaksson in Face to Face. Liv shows such depths of this character that it becomes a very disturbing, frightening experience for the viewer. Although it might be too much for some, nothing can stop me from saying that Liv is just unbelievable as Jenny. Truly unforgettable work by a brilliant actress.
What do you think?


Alex in Movieland said...

seen it just once, didn't think much of the film, but it sure is... interesting.

Her performance is one too remember, though hard to tell if fantastic or just exagerated. I'd have to see it again to say :)

Anonymous said...

Eh, she really didn't do it for me. I wanted to like it more then I actually did.

dinasztie said...

Alex: For me she falls into the fantastic category.

Sage: You wrote that it was one of the best performances ever. Once... :)

joe burns said...

I think she's amazing here! She is totally commited to the part, and although the film doesn't make sense to me in some ways, Liv is so good it doesn't matter.

Anonymous said...

I don't think her performance does the film any favors, to put it lightly, but it's difficult to deny work this committed and accomplished. It's a very brilliant performance – she never lost my sympathy, which is the magic of Liv Ullmann. Her feelings are so lucid and accessible.

Anonymous said...

What a terrific performance, I just saw it for the first time and I think that maybe she should have won, I mean Faye was perfect but Liv Ullmann's performance was just unbelievable, just great! And I also enjoyed the film very much, I don't think it's a weak Bergman film.