Named best film at the Cannes Film Festival over such worthier entries as The Player and Howards End, this three-hour Swedish soap opera fails to live up to its pedigree. The script is by the great Ingmar Bergman, who retired from directing films in 1982 after Fanny and Alexander but didn’t stop writing. The film’s turbulent love match means a lot to Bergman. This is the story of his parents, from their first encounter in 1909 to their reconciliation in 1918, just prior to Ingmar’s birth.
Danish director Bille August (Pelle the Conqueror) and cinematographer Jörgen Persson paint delicately inviting pictures; what they lack is Bergman’s darker passion. August cauterizes emotional wounds that should remain open. The actors serve Bergman more fully. Though Samuel Fröler is just adequate as Henrik Bergman, the poor theology student who loves above his station, he captures the destructive side of an outwardly timid man. Pernilla August, the director’s wife, is wonderfully expressive as Anna Åkerblom, the spoiled daughter of wealthy parents, superbly played by Max von Sydow and Ghita Nørby. The willful Anna settles on Henrik, even though he’s engaged to another woman (Lena Endre).
Henrik bristles at Anna’s social snobbery while she decries the paucity of his ambition. They battle. Anna wants a big wedding; Henrik does not. (She wins.) Anna wants Henrik to take a court position as pastor in Stockholm; Henrik wants to stay among the downtrodden of Forsboda. (He wins for a few years; then she leaves him in retaliation.) These scenes from a marriage, though occasionally moving, are wearyingly repetitive. August keeps a discreet distance from the harsher realities, making The Best Intentions must viewing only if you find diluted Bergman better than no Bergman at all.