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21 Reasons to Love... Ingmar Bergman: Part 2

All mentioned films in article
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Not released

12) Liv: The Complete Collaborator

The first non-Swede to take a leading role in one of Bergman's pictures, Liv Ullmann became his most complete collaborator. Born in Tokyo in 1938, she didn't set foot in her native Norway until she was seven years old. Having trained briefly in London, she made her way into films in 1957 and came to Bergman's attention when she co-starred with Bibi Andersson in Bjarne Henning-Jensen's Short Is the Summer (1962). Their physical similarity led to their casting in Persona and Ullmann (who is also the mother of Bergman's daughter, Linn) went on to appear in nine more features, including Face to Face (1976), which really should be available on disc, as she excels in an Oscar-nominated display.

A still from The Emigrants / The New Land (1972)
A still from The Emigrants / The New Land (1972)

Ullmann could also have featured in Fanny and Alexander, but she turned down the mother role, as she did Angie Dickinson's part in Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill (1980) and the slot that Steven Soderbergh had written especially for her in Ocean's 12 (2004). However, her career is studded with memorable performances, although rental opportunities are limited, even for Oscar-nominated work like Jan Troell's The Emigrants (1971) and her direction of the Bergman-scripted Private Confessions (1997). But London-based Cinema Paradiso can offer users the chance to see such contrasting projects as Terence Young's Cold Sweat (1970), Richard Attenborough's A Bridge Too Far (1977) and Anthony Harvey's Richard's Things (1980), as well as Faithless (2001), which Ullmann directed from a Bergman scenario about the moment of madness and sadness that drives Marianne (Lena Endre) to cheat on conductor husband Markus (Thomas Hanzon). with his best friend, David (Krister Henriksson).

13) Cold War Dread

With the nuclear stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union jeopardising the future of civilisation, Bergman started coupling his fear that God had abandoned His creation with his despair that humanity would destroy itself through its reckless folly. Previously considered apolitical, Bergman began commenting on the Cold War world in The Silence (1963), which is set in the city of Timoka in an unnamed Mitteleuropean country that's on the brink of conflict.

When tanks pass their train, sisters Ester (Ingrid Thulin) and Anna (Gunnel Lindblom) are forced to check into a hotel with the latter's 10 year-old son, Johan (Jörgen Lindström). The only other guests are a party of Spanish dwarfs, who dress Johan in women's clothing while his aunt and mother are having contrasting sexual experiences. But Anna tires of Ester's physical and psychological problems and whisks Johan to a waiting train, where he reads the note that Ester has given him to help get them home safely.

Abetted by P.A. Lundgren's suffocating sets, this is one of Bergmam's bleakest pronouncements on the human condition. It also revealed the influence on his evolving style of the nouvelle vague and such cine-modernists as Alain Resnais and Michelangelo Antonioni. But the majority of viewers were enticed by the frank depiction of sex rather than the picture's metaphysical concerns.

Despite his domestic contentment with Ullmann, Bergman slipped deeper into despondency as the decade passed and he challenged his audience to share his worldview in the 'Fårö trilogy' (1968-69). A need to retreat from a society in terminal decline prompts painter Johan Borg (Max von Sydow) to relocate to a remote island with his wife, Alma (Liv Ullmann), in Hour of the Wolf, But he is driven to the brink of despair by recurring images of his former lover, Veronica Vogler (Ingrid Thulin), and an encounter with Baron von Merkens (Erland Josephson) and the eccentrics lodging in his castle.

Von Sydow and Ullmann were reunited as musicians Jan and Eva Rosenberg in Shame, in which he betray her old flame, Jacobi (Gunnar Björnstrand), to the authorities in order to escape after their cosy existence is shattered by an invading force. Reflecting Bergman's views on the Vietnam War, the May Days in Paris and the Soviet suppression of the Prague Spring, this is easily his most topical and overtly political film, as it even questioned the validity of Sweden's long-term neutrality in a world facing conflagration.

But it was the potential that people have to destroy their own happiness that dominated The Passion of Anna, which plays out against a senseless killing spree of the local wildlife, as widow Anna Fromm (Liv Ullmann) comes to stay on an island with old friends Elias (Erland Josephson) and Eva Vergérus (Bibi Andersson) and enters into an abusive relationship with divorced loner, Andreas Winkelmann (Max von Sydow).

14) Dreamscapes

Deeply influenced by August Strindberg's A Dream Play (1901), Bergman once claimed sequences like Frost the clown's humiliation by his wife in Sawdust and Tinsel were based on snippets of remembered dreams. The most celebrated reveries in his canon come in Wild Strawberries, as Isak Borg recalls lost moments of bliss with his cousin Sara and experiences professional humiliations and premonitions of his own death. Some have even seen Antonius Block's joust with Death in The Seventh Seal as a fever dream, while others have stated that the entire second half of Persona takes place in Alma's dreaming imagination.

A still from Cries and Whispers (1972)
A still from Cries and Whispers (1972)

As he grew more pessimistic about the world, Bergman allowed nightmares to seep into doom-laden treatises like Hour of the Wolf and The Passion of Anna. They also trouble the ailing women in Cries and Whispers and Autumn Sonata (1978). Critic Michael Koresky recalls Bergman's contention that cinema is the best medium for conveying dreams and his output suggests that 'dreaming is cinema's natural state'. Bibi Andersson reckoned Bergman 'was so full of neuroses that if he took them away he would not be able to make films anymore'. The same also appears true of his unconscious adventures, which range from the childhood visions of Fanny and Alexander to the late-life reminiscences of Saraband (2003).

15) The Female Ensemble

The limelight might have been taken by Harriet and Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann. But, as we've mentioned above, Bergman wrote so many good roles for female characters that he had the pick of Sweden's actresses hoping to work with him. Many followed him from the stage, including Gertrud Fridh, who was famed for her deep, sensuous voice and a fiery acting style that was best seen in her six outings for Bergman as Sally the prostitute in A Ship Bound For India.

A still from Hour of the Wolf (1968)
A still from Hour of the Wolf (1968)

Eva Henning was already a noted screen actress when she joined Bergman for Thirst and Prison (1949), but he was more impressed with the emotional maturity and expressive versatility of Maj-Britt Nilsson, who illuminated To Joy, Summer Interlude and Waiting Women before she opted to spend more time on the stage. Around this period, Bergman also formed an attachment to Naima Wifstrand, a feted stage star who was about to retire and devote herself to directing when she discovered she enjoyed taking character roles on screen. She made eight films with Bergman between Music in Darkness and Hour of the Wolf, most notably playing Victor Sjöström's mother in Wild Strawberries.

Wifstrand played the mother of Eva Dahlbeck in Smiles of a Summer Night, which was the fifth of the six films she made with Bergman. Dahlbeck was much in demand on stage and had worked with Swedish stalwarts like Gustav Molander and Alf Sjöberg before Bergman noticed her wit and intelligence while playing Pirate Jenny in his production of Bertolt Brecht's The Threepenny Opera, which had been adroitly filmed in 1931 by G.W. Pabst. Bergman memorably paired Dahlbeck with Gunnar Björnstrand in the lift scene in Waiting Women, but she had already begun to tire of acting and prefer writing novels by the time she made So Close to Life and shared the Best Actress prize at Cannes with Bibi Andersson, Barbro Hiort af Ornäs and Ingrid Thulin.

A still from Salon Kitty (1976) With Helmut Berger
A still from Salon Kitty (1976) With Helmut Berger

The daughter of a fisherman, Thulin had been surviving on small film parts when Bergman hired her for Isak's daughter-in-law in Wild Strawberries. Recognising that she excelled at what she called 'difficult psychological roles', he cast her in a further nine projects, including The Magician, in which she spent much of the time disguised as a boy. However, her standout turns came as the eczema-ridden Märta in Winter Light and the anguished Ester in The Silence. She would return to the Bergman fold for Cries and Whispers, but her later years were spent in Italy, where she shone in Luchino Visconti's The Damned (1969), Aldo Lado's Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971) and Tinto Brass's Salon Kitty (1977).

Thulin's co-star in The Silence was Gunnel Lindblom, who made six films with Bergman after graduating from his theatre company to take the small roles of the mute girl in The Seventh Seal and Borg's sister in Wild Strawberries. She witnessed the assault as the pregnant maid in The Virgin Spring and played Max von Sydow's wife in Winter Light. Lindblom spread her wings by heading to Hollywood for John Guillermin's Rapture (1965) and featuring in such key Nordic features as Henning Carlsen's Hunger (1966) and Mai Zetterling's Girls (1968) before returning as Erland Josephson's work colleague in Scenes From a Marriage. Bergman would produce two of her directorial outings, Paradise Place (1977) and Sally and Freedom (1981), and she remained active in the theatre until her mid-80s. She also reached a new audience in Niels Arden Oplev's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009) before passing away in January 2021.

16) Facial Close-ups

After he had been wowed by the confident stare of the smoking Harriet Anderson in Summer With Monika, Jean-Luc Godard wrote that no one frames the human face like Ingmar Bergman. 'For me,' Bergman once claimed, 'the human face is the most important subject of the cinema.' On another occasion, while pondering the drama generated by expressions and the insights they give us into existence, he confided, 'Faces are a big thing. The human face is the most cinematographic thing that exists.' Later again, he declared, 'The close-up, the correctly illuminated, directed and acted close-up of an actor is and remains the height of cinematography. There is nothing better. That incredibly strange and mysterious contact you can suddenly experience with another soul through an actor's gaze.

Few films can match Persona for the innovative use of not just Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson's faces, but also the bespectacled stare of young Jörgen Lindström, who appears to be looking in on events. But, as is the case with Carl Theodor Dreyer's canon, there isn't a single Bergman film without at least one haunting close-up. Many are captured in mirrors, as in Cries and Whispers, while others breach the fourth wall to remind the viewer that they share facets with the characters on screen. Yet Bergman didn't need photogenic actors to connect viewers with the people on the screen, as he proved with the close-ups of the young and old faces waiting for the action to begin in the prologue to The Magic Flute (1975).

17) The Dance of Death

Expanded from a one-act student drama exercise entitled, Wood Painting, The Seventh Seal is probably Bergman's most famous film. Made for just £150,000, it explored a godless world in which faith had become synonymous with prejudice and persecution and reflected its maker's conviction that atomic weapons were the new pestilence threatening humankind. Filmed in stark black and white, the action takes place in the 14th century and centres on Antonius Blok (Max von Sydow), a knight returning from the Crusades with his squire, Jöns (Gunnar Björnstrand). Touched by the sight of Jof (Nils Poppe) and Mia (Bibi Andersson) with their infant son, Blok seeks to save them from the plague by playing chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot).

It's a deadly serious saga that employs allegory to explore the problems facing both the modern world and the conflicted director. But the themes of hypocrisy, corruption, despair, love and faith have been pushed into the background by the numerous parodies that have appeared of both the chess game on the beach and the dance of death over the brow of a hill. Woody Allen first lampooned the latter in Love and Death (1975), while it also informed one of the Monty Python sketches in Terry Jones's The Meaning of Life (1983).

The chess game was hilariously homaged in Peter Hewitt's Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey (1991), as the eponymous slackers (Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves) not only give Death (William Sadlet) a wedgie, but also trounce him at games like Cluedo, Battleships and Twister. Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders also produced their own variation on this theme, along with lots of the other spoofs contained in French and Saunders At the Movies (2005). Even The Muppets got in on the act by teaming the Swedish Chef and Beaker in 'Silent Strawberries' in 1993, the same year that Ian McKellen turned up as Death in John McTiernan's Last Action Hero.

18) That 70s Survival Instinct

Despite being revered as one of the world's greatest directors, Bergman found the tide turning against him during the 1970s. But he refused to buckle and continued to produce exceptional art in the most trying of circumstances. The decade began with a lukewarm reception for this English-language debut, The Touch (1971), which sees American archaeologist, David Kovac (Elliott Gould), come between Dr Andreas Vergérus (Max von Sydow) and his wife, Karin (Bibi Andersson). But, despite struggling for funding, Bergman bounced back with a masterpiece that demonstrated his new mastery of colour.

A still from The Touch (1971)
A still from The Touch (1971)

Set in a large mansion, Cries and Whispers revolves around the dying Agnes (Harriet Andersson), whose bid to reunite the bickering Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and Maria (Liv Ullmann) has more effect on their bereaved and deeply religious maid, Anna (Kari Sylwan), than it does on the sisters. Bergman claimed the women represented different facets of his mother's personality and, given the prominence of red in Marik Vos-Lundh's atmospheric interiors, it's intriguing to note that Bergman was forced to wear a dress of that colour as a child whenever he wet the bed. With its Chekhovian undertones and sombre meditations on faith, isolation, disappointment and death, this hardly seems like the kind of film to attract King of the Bs. Roger Corman. But, as Alex Stapleton recalls in Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011), New World Pictures distributed the drama and lobbied to earn it five Oscar nominations, including Best Director and Best Picture, at a time when this was a very rare accolade for a foreign-language film.

Surprisingly, Bergman premiered his next project on television. But Scenes From a Marriage became such essential viewing that he reworked the six episodes into a three-hour feature that chronicled the travails of Johan (Erland Josephson) and Marianne (Liv Ullmann), whose disintegrating union contrasts with that of friends, Peter (Jan Malmsjö) and Katarina (Bibi Andersson). The director was reportedly delighted by the fact that Swedish divorce rates soared as a result of his work, although he was about to enter his longest relationship with fifth wife, Ingrid Karlebo. Perhaps it was this contentment that prompted him to indulge in a rare cinematic flight of fancy in adapting one of the many operas he had staged in the theatre, The Magic Flute.

A still from The Serpent's Egg (1977)
A still from The Serpent's Egg (1977)

This window of happiness was soon slammed shut, however, as Bergman was arrested on a charge of tax evasion in 1976 and, feeling betrayed by the homeland he had done so much to promote, he went into exile in Munich. Despite his crushing sense of disillusion, he vowed to remain active and snapped back at his persecutors in The Serpent's Egg (1977), which was set in 1923 and followed the vicissitudes of American trapeze artist Abel Rosenberg (David Carradine), his widowed sister-in-law, Manuela (Liv Ullmann), and their sinister scientist neighbour, Dr Vergérus (Heinz Bennent).

This bitter study of injustice and inhumanity at the time of Hitler's failed putsch struck some as self-pitying and Bergman took himself to Oslo to make Autumn Sonata, a chamber drama laced with flashbacks that explain the tensions between pastor's wife Eva (Liv Ullmann) and her concert pianist mother, Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman). The legendary actress found her namesake a difficult collaborator and considered his attitudes towards women to be old-fashioned. Maybe that's why there's no mention of him in Stig Björkman's compelling documentary, Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (2015), which is one of the tens of thousands of films available to rent from Cinema Paradiso.

Back in Germany, Bergman wound up a troubled decade with From the Life of the Marionettes (1980), an experimental drama without a plot that revisits the secondary couple in Scenes From a Marriage, as the police seek to discover why Munich businessman Peter Egermann (Robert Atzorn) would brutally rape and murder a prostitute (Rita Russek) when he is supposedly so besotted with his wife, Katarina (Christine Buchegger). Fading into monochrome from its colour opening, this is one of Bergman's rawest films and one of the few to feature none of his trusted Swedish ensemble.

19) The Incomparable Max

Of all the performers mentioned in this article, few played a more pivotal role in Bergman's success than Max von Sydow. He racked up 120 films during his 67-year career and would have made 13 with Bergman had he not been denied the chance to play a policeman in Prison and priced himself out of the bishop's role in Fanny and Alexander. We've already seen how he fits into the Bergman story, but Cinema Paradiso has over 50 of his other credits on high-quality disc and no streaming site can match that. Just type his name into the searchline and treat yourself to some Von Sydow masterclasses.

A still from The Night Visitor (1971)
A still from The Night Visitor (1971)

Tall and stentorian, Von Sydow could be imposing and menacing, tormented and fixated, hence being cast as such arch-villains as Ming the Merciless in Mike Hodges's Flash Gordon (1980) and Blofield in Irvin Kershner's Never Say Never Again (1983). However, he made a gentle Jesus in George Stevens's The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) and a compassionate priest in William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973). He could be recklessly committed, as in George Roy Hill's Hawaii (1966) and Bille August's Pelle the Conqueror (1987), or ruthlessly single-minded, as in Laslo Benedek's The Night Visitor (1971) and Sydney Pollack's Three Days of the Condor (1975).

Yet, he never gave a bad performance. To see what we mean, just watch him in assignments as different as John Huston's Escape to Victory (1981), Fraser Heston's Needful Things (1993), Steven Spielberg's Minority Report (2002), Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007), Stephen Daldry's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011) and J.J. Abrams's Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens (2015).

20) The Late Gems

Originally planned as a TV series, Fanny and Alexander was announced as Bergman's final film. In some ways, it was a cathartic exercise, as he sought to 'take up the images from my childhood, put them into the "projector", run them into myself, and have an entirely new way of evaluating them'. All seems well for Fanny (Pernilla Allwin) and Alexander Ekdahl (Bertil Guve), as they celebrate Christmas 1907 with their pastor father, Oscar (Allan Edwall) and his young wife, Emelie (Ewa Fröling). But everything changes when Oscar dies suddenly and his widow accepts the proposal of Edvard Vergérus (Jan Malmsjö), a disciplinarian bishop who insists on raising the children on his own terms.

Bergman alone missed out on Academy Awards as the writer and director of this lavish winner of the Best Foreign Film category, as Sven Nykvist's evocative imagery, Anna Asp's impeccable production design and Marik Vos-Lundh's exquisite costumes were all recognised, But the critics weren't entirely convinced and Bergman felt compelled to return behind the camera for the teleplay, After the Rehearsal (1984), a reflection on his relationships with his actresses that centres on the byplay between Henrik Vogler (Erland Josephson), self-doubting alcoholic Rakel (Ingrid Thulin) and the flirtatiously ambitious Anna (Lena Olin), as they rehearse a production of Strindberg's A Dream Play.

Although he returned to being a man of the theatre, Bergman did grace the small screen with The Blessed Ones (1986), In the Presence of a Clown (1997) and The Image Makers (2000), which took him back into the history of Swedish cinema to show how Victor Sjöström (Lennart Hjulström) invited novelist Selma Lagerlöf (Anita Björk) and star Tora Teje (Elin Klinga) to join him and cinematographer Julius Jaenzon (Carl Magnus Dellow) in viewing some early scenes from The Phantom Carriage. But Bergman still had some unfinished business and he reunited Johan (Erland Josephson) and Marianne (Liv Ullmann) from Scenes From a Marriage for Saraband, in which the former's relationship with son Henrik (Borje Ahlstedt) is set against his strained connection with his cellist daughter, Karin (Julia Dufvenius).

21) An Incalculable Legacy

It would probably be quicker to list the directors who haven't been influenced by Ingmar Bergman. Indeed, Martin Scorsese contends that everyone who has ever made a film owes Bergman a debt. His films were accused of being detached, obscure, contrived and bleak, but their approach to social, spiritual, psychological and supernatural matters helped cinema evolve as a medium capable of commenting on and understanding the human condition and the wider world. Bergman tacked taboos with courage and forced people to look at themselves and the way they treated each other. Moreover, he was a visionary artist of rare perception and compassion. But he was far from perfect, either as a man or as a film-maker.

Among the peers to cite Bergman's influence or visually quote him in their work are Akira Kurosawa, Andrzej Wajda, Satyajit Ray, Ettore Scola, Federico Fellini, François Truffaut, Jean-Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, John Cassavetes, Robert Altman, Stanley Kubrick, Krzysztof Kieslowski, Andrei Tarkovsky and, of course, Woody Allen. Recent documentaries have included testimony from such in-thralled luminaries as Francis Ford Coppola, Terry Gilliam, Zhang Yimou, Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, Wes Anderson, Michael Haneke, Ridley Scott, Claire Denis, Ang Lee, Lars von Trier, Takeshi Kitano, Alexander Payne, Thomas Vinterberg and Tomas Alfredson. And let's not forget the way in which Bergman can be glimpsed in the features of David Lynch, David Cronenberg, François Ozon, Arnaud Desplechin, Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Asghar Farhadi. If you don't believe us, choose a name, browse Cinema Paradiso and see for yourself.

A still from The Image Makers (2000)
A still from The Image Makers (2000)
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