Ingmar Bergman was born on July 14, 1918, and exhibitions and film series celebrating the hundredth anniversary are already underway.
Update, 1/8: Following the run in New York, the retrospective will travel to the Seattle Art Museum, the Detroit Film Theatre, the Minneapolis Film Society, the Amherst Cinema, the Northwest Film Center in Portland, the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, AFI Silver in Maryland, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Museum of Fine Arts and Rice Cinema in Houston, the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, and, in Los Angeles, the American Cinematheque, UCLA, Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
- Crisis (1946)
- Port of Call (1948)
- To Joy (1949)
- Summer Interlude (1951)
- Secrets of Women (1952)
- Summer with Monika (1953)
- Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)
- Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
- The Seventh Seal (1957)
- Wild Strawberries (1957)
- The Magician (1958)
- The Virgin Spring (1960)
- Through a Glass Darkly (1961)
- Winter Light (1962)
- The Silence (1963)
- Persona (1966)
- The Rite (1969)
- Cries and Whispers (1972)
- Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
- The Magic Flute (1975)
- Autumn Sonata (1978)
- Fanny and Alexander: The Television Version (1982)
Update, 1/9: Film Forum’s schedule is now up, and it features forty-seven films—forty of which are new restorations.
“The ultimate auteur, he wrote and directed profoundly personal projects notable for their honesty in tackling the ‘big questions’ of everyday existence,” writes BFI programmer Geoff Andrew, introducing Ingmar Bergman: A definitive film season, currently running through March.
In an essay for the Ingmar Bergman Foundation, where you can track #Bergman100 events and delve into the Bergman Cinematic Universe, Andrew argues that “Bergman’s enormous contribution to the arts—besides the many works he wrote and directed for the cinema and television, he consistently maintained a hugely successful and influential parallel career in the theater—is considerably more varied than any miserabilist caricature might suggest.”
Throughout 2018, this entry will track related events, writing, and more. The Austrian Film Museum, for example, is staging a complete retrospective in Vienna from Friday through February 8:
Already as a teenager, Bergman dove into the history of literature and began his studies in the field before turning to theater, which was to remain an important sphere of activity and the topic of his films (for example, in his 1975 version of The Magic Flute) all his life. . . .
Bergman came to film in the mid-1940s. He began as a scriptwriter and quickly established himself as a director, becoming a leading figure in Swedish cinema. In the first phase of his work, he combined neorealist influences with youthful rebellion: His films often featured young (working-class) couples struggling with the ossified bourgeois adult world. The immensely physical love story Sommaren med Monika (Summer with Monika, 1953) was described by Jean-Luc Godard as “the most original film by the most original of filmmakers. It is to the cinema of today what Birth of a Nation was to the classical cinema.” Later on, in his own film debut, Godard quoted the incredible long take in which actress Harriet Andersson stares directly into the camera: A perfect example of Bergman’s modernist impulses as a mainspring for the continuous expansion of his aesthetic and thematic spectrum. Their expression ranges from the string of comedies that culminated in Sommarnattens leende (Smiles of a Summer Night, 1955), dark dramas such as the medieval miracle play The Seventh Seal, or the modern story of estrangement Tystnaden (The Silence, 1963).
For the BFI, Alex Barrett considers the work of eight key players in Bergman’s company of actors: Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Erland Josephson, Gunnel Lindblom, Ingrid Thulin, and of course, Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow. Barrett’s also put together a gallery of close-ups: “It’s often claimed that close-ups are televisual, and that the scale of the big screen calls for wider landscapes and more epic vistas. Bergman and his frequent cinematographers, Gunnar Fischer and Sven Nykvist, effortlessly debunk that idea.”
In the Guardian, Peter Bradshaw revisits Persona (1966). “This was last revived in British cinemas fourteen years ago, and I have in the past been agnostic about what I felt were contrivances and rather atypical attempts to engage with the Godardian spirit of the times. Revisited now, the movie actually more suggests the Roman Polanski of Knife in the Water and Repulsion. Yet more than that, it forces on the audience its own utter uniqueness. It is stark, spare, endlessly questioning and self-questioning, a movie whose enigmas and challenges multiply, like the heads of Hydra.”
The exhibition Bergman à la mode, showcasing costumes for the women in his films, is on view at the Museum Hallwyl in Stockholm through March 18.
The retrospective at the Centro sperimentale di cinematografia in Rome is on from January 18 through March 4.
In Helsinki, the National Audiovisual Institute’s retrospective begins on January 21.
There’ll be a focus on Bergman’s work at the Göteborg Film Festival, running from January 26 through February 5.
Bergman 100: A Tribute to Liv Ullmann runs from February 1 through 24 at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley.
From February 21 through April 14, London’s Old Vic presents Fanny & Alexander, an adaptation for the stage of Bergman’s 1982 semi-autobiographical work for television and cinemas by Stephen Beresford and Penelope Wilton.
“When I was researching my book about Bergman I was startled by the ambivalence with which he was regarded by his fellow Swedes,” writes Geoffrey Macnab in the Financial Times. “Yet Jan Holmberg, chief executive of The Ingmar Bergman Foundation, suggests there are aspects of the director’s work that the British appreciate more than the Swedes because they know how to laugh at it. ‘The irony in Ingmar Bergman, the humor in him is absolutely lost on Swedes. Even at his apparently most brooding and depressing, there is almost always a streak of black comedy in there which I think the British recognize and the Swedes don’t.’”
Update, 1/5: “For four years I worked exclusively with his legacy, as archivist at the Ingmar Bergman Archives and then as Bergman festival coordinator at the Swedish Institute,” writes Fredrik Gustafsson. Bergman’s connection to Hasse Ekman “is the big gap in the extensive writing of Bergman; almost all aspects of Bergman's life and work has been covered and discussed in excruciating detail, except the Ekman connection. My own writing, including my book and a few articles, has tried to close this gap but there is more to be done.”
Update, 1/6: Jane Magnusson’s Bergman: A Year in a Life, currently in post-production and aiming for a premiere at Cannes, will “examine the sexual relationships in which the Swedish film director engaged with almost all of his actresses, and detail his shortcomings as a husband and father,” reports Richard Orange for the Guardian. In 2013, Magnusson made another documentary, Trespassing Bergman, “which saw renowned film-makers such as Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen appraise Bergman’s work. A Year in a Life aims to look at the man behind the films and to direct an unflinching gaze at a national hero.”
Update, 1/7: Little White Lies’ David Jenkins on Persona: “Though most people will have their favorite Bergman, this one must surely be considered his crowning achievement. It’s a film which earns its status as an enigma by creating a compelling shell around the mad, hidden core. Surreal experimentation which suppresses easy answers is rarely this entertaining, and the language of cinema has seldom been used in such outlandish manner before or since.”
Update, 1/8: Little White Lies has posted a really lovely dispatch from Fårö, the island where Bergman lived for forty years, by Adam Woodward. “Moving through the house, it’s impossible not to notice patterns on the walls, floors and furniture. The immaculately furnished house is covered in infantile graffiti, hand-scrawled memos that range from playful to indecipherable—the words ‘Warning: Slippery as Hell’ mark the bathroom floor, while a bedside dresser doubles as a spontaneous journal of Bergman’s nightmares. Amid the frantically scribbled ink stains there is one constant, a cartoon devil motif that became the director’s signature—a lasting symbol of his tormented genius.”
Update, 1/14: “Not included in the BFI season is the director’s little-seen spy thriller, This Can’t Happen Here, from 1950,” notes Gerard Corvin for Little White Lies. “Its omission is unsurprising considering Bergman actively sabotaged its release by withdrawing it from circulation. Long thought lost, a version has been known to intermittently wash-up on that shoreline of forgotten cinema, YouTube. He was miserable and ill at the time of filming. He only made it, he later recalled, because he had two ex-wives and five children to support. Yet the effort Bergman went to to destroy the film suggests something deeper than professional embarrassment.”
Update, 1/24: For AnOther, Ana Kinsella offers a five-point Bergman primer.
Updates, 1/27: Writing for the BFI, Kat Ellinger argues that some of Bergman’s films—Hour of the Wolf (1968) in particular—deserve a place in the folk horror canon.
With the Göteborg Film Festival now underway, Jorn Rossing Jensen looks back in Variety on Bergman’s relationship with the festival. He was an honorary chairman, for example, and “contributed to the programming, wrote articles for Göteborg Fest publications and performed in films produced by the festival: Bergman’s Voice, A Conversation with Ingmar Bergman, and Ingmar Bergman: Intermezzo. In 2004, he and the Festival launched the Ingmar Bergman International Debut Prize.”
Update, 2/1: From tomorrow through Sunday, the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center will present a Tribute to Liv Ullmann, and she’ll be there. “Bergman was in his forties, twenty years older than her when they met,” notes Richard Von Busack in the Pacific Sun. “He was controlling and forbidding, and was as capable of locking himself up in his study as he was of locking the doors on his actresses. Ullmann’s account of their life in Liv and Ingmar [the 2012 documentary by Dheeraj Akolkar] describes how he almost froze her and burned her alive on the same shoot—it was for 1968’s Shame, probably a movie worth dying for.”
Updates, 2/3: “For all the modernist audacity of his work and its ongoing influence, Bergman (who died in 2007) is very much a man of his times,” writes Richard Brody, previewing the retrospective at Film Forum in the New Yorker. “The breathtaking intimacy of his films is inseparable from their relentless rage and cruelty; they’re filled with physical and emotional violence, secrets and lies, intrigues and betrayals. The relationships he depicts—whether romantic or erotic, creative or familial—are equally fraught with destructive passion.”
Tuesday was Ingmar Bergman Day at Dazed:
- Claire Marie Healy interviews Liv Ullmann: “I never played the wife, I never played the girlfriend. I was always the main character. I would have liked to have been some really sweet, wonderful grandmother in some movie, but no! . . . I knew that once we left each other, nothing was changing except that the ‘romance’ was over. But it’s something really beautiful, that it went on to be a friendship and we continued creating together.”
- Alex Denney writes that Persona’s “radical expanding of the language of the uncanny makes it an unshakable portrayal of psychosis, one that’s inspired imitators from Robert Altman to David Lynch and, in Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky.”
- Nick Chen writes about Bergman’s relationship to Fårö, and notes that an “early contender for the best movie of 2019 already has a name, and it’s Bergman Island. Mia Hansen-Løve wrote the script in 2016 on a visit to Bergman’s neighborhood.” The cast is “led by Greta Gerwig, John Turturro and Mia Wasikowska. As for the plot of Bergman Island, it’s a doozy. A filmmaking couple visit Fårö Island to write their respective screenplays but, as the official synopsis promises, “the lines between reality and fiction start to blur against the island’s wild landscape.”
- More from Chen: “Bergman was unpredictable. He created esoteric period-dramas, witty fever dreams, screwball sex comedies, nakedly honest relationship stories, or just whatever he felt like making at the time. So bearing that in mind, here are the ten films we recommend you watch first.”
For the Notebook, Adrian Curry’s put together a gallery of ten of his favorite posters for Bergman’s films.
“The question of whether Bergman is a ‘feminist’ filmmaker has long been debated,” writes Leigh Singer for Sight & Sound, introducing the video above. “Jean-Luc Godard famously wrote that, ‘Bergman alone knows how to film men as women love yet hate them, and women as men hate yet love them.’ And while he often clearly shows, in his comedies as much as his searing psychological dramas, how women are defined, contained and condemned by an unforgiving patriarchal society, the focus is usually internalized, the gaze often ambivalent. . . . But there’s also a strong sense that the women, and actresses, we see on these screens were ultimately able to transcend such strictures: to become the light and life force illuminating Ingmar Bergman’s beloved magic lanterns.”
Update, 2/4: Writing for Variety, Jorn Rossing Jensen recalls the time in 1976 when Jeanne Moreau asked him to take a letter with him to Bergman in Oslo. Once there, Bergman asked him to take a letter back to Moreau in Copenhagen. How had the relationship begun? “After Moreau had ended a passionate love affair with French director Louis Malle, she felt she was the unhappiest woman in the world. ‘Who will understand me? Ingmar Bergman,’ she thought, having seen his film The Summer with Monika, which was to her a revelation of cinema. She wrote him a letter, then another, and finally after the third, he responded. They met for the first time in Berlin, which started a lifelong friendship. Unfortunately, as she once told Nice Martin in Cannes, ‘I always wanted to make a film with Ingmar Bergman, but it never happened.’”
Updates, 2/6: “Bergman's preoccupation with women and society's—and perhaps his own—failure to understand and address their needs was apparent from the beginning,” writes Tony Pipolo for Artforum. “When not depicted as a hellish trap, marriage is seen as an unfulfilling state (Summer Interlude, 1950), and several films imply that abortion and lesbianism are paths to independence. As the director's failed romantic relationships accumulated and later films such as Persona (1966), The Passion of Anna (1969), and Cries and Whispers (1973) suggest, the psychology of women became nearly as abstruse an object of investigation as the existence of God.”
“A Freudian interpretation of Bergman’s women is tempting, if glib,” writes the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw, “although the director is himself virtually a parallel Freud, presiding over his own modern mythology of sexual dysfunction and family tragedy. . . . Maybe Bergman’s rapture was a dimension of his religious doubt: if he couldn’t believe in God . . . , then he could turn to those passionately curated images of female beauty about whose transcendence there could be no debate. This was a kind of religious truth, but one that caused its own kind of anguish.”
For the BFI, David Parkinson writes about “five early Bergman gems that reveal his distinctive voice emerging.”
Meantime, as Amanda N’Duka reports for Deadline, Oscilloscope has picked up North American distribution rights to Ingmar Bergman – Legacy of Defining Genius, a documentary directed by Margarethe von Trotta and Felix Moeller. “It explores the many layers of the Swedish director’s legacy through both his closest collaborators in front of and behind the camera, as well a new generation of filmmakers forever inspired by him.”
Updates, 2/7: At Hyperallergic, Craig Hubert has ranked all forty-seven films in the Film Forum retrospective: “Watching the films I had never seen (and rewatching a few favorites) over the last three weeks was often frustrating and only sometimes revelatory; some of the canonized work does not hold up, while whole periods of his career I had written off were suddenly more interesting.”
At Vulture, Charles Bramesco focuses on five features to write about, The Seventh Seal (“anyone who has ever cast their gaze to the sky and impotently wondered why the world is such absolute crap will be able to tap into Bergman’s ethos”), Wild Strawberries (“Bergman earns the optimism of his concluding scene bit by bit, and bitterly”), Persona (it “does not end, so much as it folds into itself and ceases to exist”), Cries and Whispers—“The image of Anna holding Agnes as her disease internally rages, a recreation of the Pietà, remains a defining indelible image of Swedish film. (They even put it on stamps!)”—and Fanny and Alexander: “Alexander’s uncle Gustav (Jarl Kulle)” delivers “a speech near the tail end that is both unmistakably Bergman and in radical defiance of the outlook he had established over 20-plus features. ‘Let us be happy while we are happy,’ he says, after conceding that evil runs through the world like a mad dog. ‘Let us be kind, generous, affectionate and good. It is necessary and not at all shameful to take pleasure in the little world.’ Stumble onto one of his movies unawares in the middle of the night on Turner Classic, and Bergman could very well save your soul. But not until he’s done with you.”
Update, 2/8: “One of Bergman’s most appealing traits is that, though the mood of his movies could be famously difficult and fraught, they poured forth in generous profusion, as if he could hardly help himself, and knew no other release,” writes Anthony Lane, previewing the Film Forum series in the New Yorker. “He dreamed, drew, pondered, probed, and agonized on film, and what resulted, more often than not, bore the grip of a thriller and the elegance of a waltz. If you wish to be reminded of what the medium can do, or if you doubt the depths that lurk beneath the flat skin of celluloid, waiting to be fathomed, Bergman is your man.”
Update, 2/10: “Filmstaden was Sweden’s own Hollywood, built in 1919 for the masters of Swedish silent cinema, Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller. Ingmar Bergman came to Filmstaden in 1942 to work as a script editor. His first script to be filmed was Torment, directed by Alf Sjöberg in 1944 and it became a big hit and won international fame. The year after, Bergman made his debut as a director with Crisis.” Filmstaden is now celebrating the centennial with guided tours, screenings, and, opening on April 12, an outdoor exhibition.
Updates, 2/11: “Bergman’s oeuvre epitomizes a type of art cinema that marries philosophical conceits with explicit treatments of sexuality, a type that was very much of its time,” writes Catherine Wheatley for Sight & Sound. “Still, it’s possible that contemporary audiences might find a poignancy in Bergman’s idiosyncratic brand of existentialism, and in particular its concern with what to believe in after the death of God.” The focus here is on the Faith Trilogy, Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence.
Matt Thrift’s conducted a terrific interview with Liv Ullmann for Little White Lies in which she explains why she doesn’t mind being asked about Bergman over and again for so many years. She also talks about why the “biggest mistake in my life was turning down Fanny and Alexander” and about that time she arranged for Bergman to meet Woody Allen.
Posteritati’s put together a gallery of “rare and exquisite items from our archives.”
Updates, 2/22: The Rite is “a fascinating outlier in Bergman’s filmography, a psychosexual made-for-Swedish-television drama held together by the sheer strength of its powerful performers,” including Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand and Anders Ek, writes Dana Reinoos at Screen Slate.
The Touch (1971), starring Bibi Andersson, Elliott Gould, Max von Sydow, and Sheila Reid, “is a passionate and flawed but very engrossing film about that most 70s of things: an extramarital affair.” The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw: “This is allowed to play out with all its tension, rapture, sensual abandonment, vicious quarreling, desperate making up, and finally an autumnal regret and bitterness on which Bergman finally, uncompromisingly, lowers the curtain.”
Arguing that The Touch has been under-appreciated all these years, not least because Bergman himself included on a list of “projects that ended in ‘embarrassing failure’ compared with the achievements of Tarkovsky, whom he greatly admired,” BFI programmer Geoff Andrew tells the story behind Bergman’s first feature in English.
And the BFI has posted audio from its archives, Peter Cowie’s conversation with Max von Sydow about working with Bergman (10’45”).
Update, 2/27: What Catherine Wheatley calls the “Faith Trilogy” (see above, 2/11), is also “referred to as either the ‘Silence of God’ or ‘God and Man’ trilogy,” notes Marshall Shaffer at Vague Visages, adding that it “showcases the diversity and intellectual rigor with which the Swedish director probed the relationship between the divine and the human.”
Updates, 3/1: For Vulture, Charles Bramesco calls up Liv Ullmann to talk about “about her rich and complicated relationship to Bergman, the eternal relevance of the films they made together, and the dismally boring dinner party that made her stop rewatching her own movies.”
Manuelle Blanc’s 2016 documentary Persona: The Film That Saved Ingmar Bergman is currently freely viewable at ARTE (53’02”).
Update, 3/7: Film Forum’s posted two conversations repertory program director Bruce Goldstein’s recently conducted with Liv Ullmann, the first one (78’29”) recorded after a screening of Bergman’s Shame, the second (25’40”) after The Passion of Anna.
Update, 3/9: Lars-Eric Kjellgren “and Bergman were friends since at least the 1940s (they bonded over their love of Michael Curtiz) and had worked together at Svensk Filmindustri (SF) as script developers before they began their respective careers as writers/directors,” writes Fredrik Gustafsson. “On Bergman's first film as director, Crisis, Kjellgren was production manager, and again on Port of Call (1948). . . . Bergman was involved with many different films besides those he directed. Hets aka Torment aka Frenzy, which he wrote and Alf Sjöberg directed in 1944, is the most famous. I will be writing about some of these films during the year, under the headline ‘Bergman connections.’”
Update, 3/18: The Magic Flute (1975) “has gaiety and mystery,” writes the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. “To consider it between, say, his Smiles of a Summer Night and Fanny and Alexander, is perhaps to see the Mozartian quality of Bergman’s work generally; to savor an influence on his own registers of seriousness and mischief, and his use of symbolism.”
Update, 3/19: Sight & Sound has posted Peter Cowie’s 1975 review of The Magic Flute: “Far from attempting to open out the opera, Bergman has been at pains to recreate the atmosphere of the 1791 production at the Theater auf der Weiden in Vienna (even the dragon that pursues Tamino upstage is a delightful creature of felt and bunting).”
Updates, 3/24: Writing about Scenes from a Marriage for Vague Visages, Ben Woodiwiss focuses on “one six-minute scene representing decades of development in a filmmaker’s career, and foreshadowing where he would go after that. It is a fulcrum, a point at which one finds him in flux, trying something different, and abandoning his earlier approach.”
“There’s something in the way Harriet Andersson moves,” writes Q. V. Hough at RogerEbert.com. “Three of Andersson’s most beloved Bergman films—Summer with Monika, Through a Glass Darkly (1961), and Cries & Whispers (1972)—are distinctly Swedish and stylistically unique. Andersson portrays naturalistic women, all of whom have suffered some type of abuse, whether it’s emotional, spiritual or physical. Her characters are relatable and beautiful, but not necessarily accessible. Andersson connects through small gestures and glances, only to create distance through those same movements.”
Update, 3/31: On the new Poster Boys podcast (141’21”), Brandon Schaefer and Sam Smith discuss, yes, movie posters: “Bergman’s films saw creative and visionary poster designs in Germany, Poland, Japan, Italy, the Czech Republic, and the U.S., providing a veritable international poster tour for listeners and cinephiles this month.” The link takes you to their tumblr, where you can page through the collection they’ve put together.
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