I think Passion stands out from some of Bergman's other films because of two opposing themes; its chaos and its mainstream plot. First, the chaos. Bergman tried something he had never done before, and that was improvisation. Many of his films contain the feeling of chaos because the character's lives are spinning out of control, as we see in Persona. However, that chaos is precisely scripted by Bergman, and strictly adhered to by his "collaborator's" (Bergman's own word for the actors and crew who moved from project to project with him).
However, in Passion he decided to try some improv, having the four main actor's sit around a table as though at a dinner party. They then talked about various things, supposedly in the voices of their characters,. However, in an interview done many years later (included on my DVDs extras) Ullmann says that she was trying to make a point during her speech about the importance of truth... not just for her character (who, coincidentally is lying through her teeth through much of the film), but for herself the actress. You see, Passion was being filmed during Bergman and Ullmann's somewhat messy and painful break-up.
An aside here... With a lot of director's and actors, it may not pay to look at what was happening in their lives at that precise moment when the film is being produced. However, when you're talking about Bergman, or any number of other directors for whom I cannot spare the time at the moment, their lives and their work are closely intertwined, reflections of work showing up in their lives, and, in the case of Passion, vise verse. So, don't worry, I'm not a Hollywood hound, looking for the dirtiest gossip. I promise, Ullman and Bergman's relationship played a large role in the way that passion played out.
Back to the chaos...
So, Ullmann and Bergman are breaking up. Ullmann decides to use that in her improve...but the way the story unfolds, we know Anna is lying right away. Andreas has already seen a letter written by her late husband, discussing how they shouldn't be together because of the ways they hurt each other, and then we see Anna expounding on how truthful and peaceful their marriage was. At first this is taken in a sort of don't speak ill of the dead kind of way, but it becomes clear that Anna is lying to herself, and more effectively since everyone she tries to lie to already knows the truth.
Bergman also decided to break the fourth wall in Passion. Early on we cut from a seen with Andreas to a slate and the title, Max von Sydow, the Actor, and we see von Sydow discuss his interpretation of Andreas the character. One thing I found really interesting was how he had a very different interpretation of who this man was then I did at this point... but then, he knew the whole script and I had only seen the first 20 min.
So, we come to another lie of sorts. Andreas has been lying to the audience about who he is, and we, most likely, have bought it. When von Sydow tells us the truth about Andreas's actions, it's somewhat hard to believe.
Hmmm...I'm gonna leave it there for now, because I still want to get into the Vietnam stuff, and that would make this even longer then it already is.... so stay tuned for more!