Yesterday the passing of Ingmar Bergman was reported in the news. No doubt others can sum up his immense contribution to the art of cinema than I can, but I’d like to make some comments about my personal appreciation of his work. There are two directors whose work I like more than any others. There are individual films by others which I may like better, but each of these directors has a large body of work spanning many years and I enjoy just about about everything they’ve done. Actually “enjoy” isn’t really an adequate work, their films affect me on a deeper level. One of those directors is, of course, Ingmar Bergman. (I’ll leave it as an exercise to guess the other … there is a hint contained somewhere on this page).
I can’t pick one Bergman film to recommend, so instead I’ll make lots of suggestions (in chronological order). While many of his films are very dark and serious, he also made comedies early on, and the best known would be Sommarnattens leende (Smiles of a Summer Night) a delightful comedy about relationships which was the inspiration for Woody Allen’s A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy. Bergman’s most famous film is Sjunde inseglet, Det (The Seventh Seal) which features the iconic scenes of Max von Sydow’s knight playing chess with Death. A masterful look at the topic of death through the fears of the people in plague ravaged medieval times. Many of Bergman’s films, especially in this late 50’s/ early 60’s period had historical settings, but one exception was Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries) which was given a contemporary setting. Perhaps it could be described as Bergman’s road movie, an elderly professor is on his way to receive a reward for his life’s achievement but reassesses his life through his interactions with a group of younger people. It was back to the medieval setting for Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring), a rather shocking tale of morality and revenge. Rather more subdued is Nattvardsgästerna (Winter Light), a sombre, moving study of the loss of faith. Persona is the first Bergman film I ever saw, an intense psychological drama which is possibly his best known film from the period. Vargtimmen (Hour of the Wolf) is a surreal, suspenseful horror with a look that should be quite familiar to fans of David Lynch. Even so, its impact is less than Skammen (Shame) which is one of most deeply disturbing films I’ve seen, as a couple get caught up in the midst of a civil war. Don’t let the “deeply disturbing” put you off, while this isn’t as famous as some of his other films I consider it as essential as any of them. The last couple of films that I’ll recommend both exist in longer TV versions which I’ve not seen (but would certainly like to), but the shorter cinema versions are still amongst his best work. First is Scener ur ett äktenskap (Scenes from a Marriage), which is pretty much what is described. An in depth look at a relationship told in documentary-like style over a period of many years. Absolutely compelling, in large part due to the utterly brilliant performances of Bergman regulars Liv Ullman and Erland Josephson in the lead roles. Finally we have Bergman’s final film for the cinema Fanny och Alexander (Fanny and Alexander). A magical epic, viewing the story of a large family through the eyes of two young children. Some of the films above can be quite harrowing experiences, this one however is simply a joy throughout.
It is also worth mentioning that a key ingredient to many of Bergman’s films was the work of the great cinematographer Sven Nykvist who passed away last year.
Also, another of the great directors Michelangelo Antonioni has died yesterday as well.
I think perhaps it’s time to head to the video store now.