filmmaker and stage director Ingmar Bergman famously said that he was “married
to the theatre,” but that “film was his mistress.” In a vintage interview in
Margarethe von Trotta’s new documentary on Bergman, the Swedish artist is asked
to define “film director.” Bergman’s brow wrinkles and he is lost in thought
for a moment… and then he replies that being a film director is “someone who has
so many problems to deal with he doesn’t have time to think.”
then, is a cruel mistress, indeed.
official selection of the New York Film Festival and released to U.S. theaters in
November in time to help celebrate Bergman’s centenary, Searching for Ingmar Bergman is a welcome and lovingly-made
examination of the filmmaker’s life and work. Director von Trotta, one of the
major figures of the New German Cinema movement of the 70s and 80s, shines a
light on this somewhat enigmatic and complicated man through a succession of
film clips from Bergman’s oeuvre,
interviews with various actors, crew, family, and other filmmakers, and scenic
tours of what was Bergman’s physical world.
with the help of author Stig Björkman (Bergman on Bergman), von Trotta traces
Bergman’s movements in Stockholm, Farö Island, and Munich
(where Bergman spent his voluntary banishment from Sweden after he was falsely
accused of tax evasion in the mid-70s). The portion of the documentary that
deals with the “German period” is enlightening and not typically recorded.
Bergman’s repertory company, Liv Ullmann is of course a top-billed
interviewee—a documentary on Bergman would not be complete without her. Gunnel
Lindblom, Rita Russek, and Julia Dufvenius also make appearances, but,
curiously, Max von Sydow and Harriet Andersson are missing. Sadly, most of the
actors associated with Bergman’s films—Erland Josephson, Gunnar Björnstrand,
Ingrid Thulin—are no longer with us, and Bibi Andersson is tragically incapacitated
by a stroke.
Ruben Östlund (The
Square), Olivier Assayas (Personal
Shopper, Clouds of Sils Maria),
Mia Hansen-Løve (Maya,
Things to Come), and Carlos Saura (Carmen, Tango), screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière
(The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie),
and Bergman’s “script girl” for thirty years, Katinka Faragó,
all deliver poignant and insightful analyses of Bergman’s style and the themes
that run through his work.
interesting are the comments from Bergman’s sons, Daniel and Ingmar Jr., and
grandson Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel. Bergman was
married five times and had numerous love affairs. He fathered nine children,
but according to Daniel and Ingmar Jr., Bergman wasn’t close to his children.
One gets the impression that he loved his actors more than his immediate family,
and that he was only truly at “home” when he was in the theatre or on a film
set. At one point, an anecdote is told of how Bergman, sitting with some of his
grown children, once complained that he “missed his actors.” One of the
children snapped back, “What about your children?” Bergman shrugged and
replied, “I don’t miss you.”
Bergman may not have been the best father or family-man, but his dedication to
his art, his perception of the human condition, and especially his presentation of liberated women in his films, place
the filmmaker on any serious cinephile’s Greatest Directors list.
testament to Bergman’s standing in the world of cinema is the upcoming Blu-ray
39-film box set that will be released by The Criterion Collection on November
20. In the meantime, a good introductory course for Bergman-beginners might be
von Trotta’s new documentary. Search for it at an art-house near you.