France's Rezo Films will be the first distributor to give IngmarBergman's Saraband a theatrical outing when it releases the film nextmonth (Dec 15). The release is hedged with conditions and marks the end of adance of seduction for the film which was once tipped to appear in Cannes orVenice 2003.

In order to get the film, Rezo committed to releasing the film only intheatres equipped with top-end digital projection equipment ("Digital HD").Given the modest number of suitably equipped screens, Rezo is giving it a widerelease in ten cinemas in Paris and the French provinces.

"We are thrilled to be able to release this film at last. Screening onlyon digital means the film will be shown in the conditions it was meant to beseen in," said Rezo's Laurent Danielou. "We are also delighted to be the firstin the world to have Saraband for commercial release."

The veteran Bergman, now aged 86, originally made Saraband for local public broadcaster SVT on high definition media.But it was widely envisaged at the time that it would be his last full-lengthfeature and would be screened theatrically in Sweden and abroad.

The film, which stars Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, Borje Ahlstedt andJulia Dufvenius, reunites the characters from Bergman's award-winning ScenesFrom A Marriage, which was first aired in 1973. Although it was made forTV, Scenes From A Marriage was released worldwide and received a numberof awards including a Golden Globe.

The perfectionist director however was unhappy with the quality oftransfers to 35mm print stock and late last year announced that Sarabandwould not be released theatrically. It was shown by SVT in December 2003 andSvensk Filmindustri (SF) sold TV and DVD rights in many territories.

Since then Bergman has become convinced of digital cinema. Apparentlylikening Digital HD to 70mm print quality, he relented and allowed theatricalrights to be sold.

In late May this year international sales on the picture weretransferred from SF to SVT. "We might have been able to go back to thosedistributors which thought they had bought TV, video and DVD rights. But whathas instead happened is that all those old agreements have been cancelled andwe've started again," said Susanna Thunell, head of sales for SVT.

To date only two deals that include theatrical rights have beencompleted; Rezo for France and Sony Pictures Classics (SPC), which has US,Canada, Brazil and Latin America. SPC's US release is currently set at July 82005, although there is a suggestion that it could be re-dated to a Christmasslot. Thunell says SVT is now holding firm offers from two theatricaldistributors in the UK.

Bergman has compared his film to "a concerto grosso, a concert fora full symphony orchestra, with four soloists." The title refers toSarabande, an erotic dance popular among royalty in the 17th and 18thcenturies.