Swedish director, writer and producer Ingmar Bergman, who worked in film, television, theatre and radio, is one of the finest filmmakers of all time. In a career spanning four decades, he wrote/directed over 60 movies and 170 theatrical productions.
Swedish director, writer and producer Ingmar Bergman, who worked in film, television, theatre and radio, is one of the finest filmmakers of all time. In a career spanning four decades, he wrote/directed over 60 movies and 170 theatrical productions. Through his works, he dealt with issues such as death, raising questions on the existence of God. Whether it was Wild Strawberries, a 1957 film about a 78-year-old doctor wondering why everybody dislikes him, or Persona, a 1966 much-analysed psychological film about a young nurse and her patient, the auteur explored people’s emotions and inner turmoil to make sense of the world. It’s no wonder then that cinephiles around the world are celebrating the birth centenary of the filmmaker (who was born on July 14, 1918), with multiple events planned and in progress. There are several film screenings happening across the world even as you read this, from St Petersburg and Santiago to Barcelona and Berkeley. In Paris, where a moving film was shown to the public for the first time in 1895, a new dance performance on the life and works of Bergman will be staged in June at the Champs-Elysees Theatre. In New York, 47 of Bergman’s films were screened at Film Forum movie theatre during February-March this year. In Stockholm, where Bergman was born, the festivities are year-long. There are also several retrospectives planned in Finland, Norway, Canada, Israel and even India.
Interestingly, it’s not just cinephiles who are returning to the Bergman universe. In Rio de Janeiro, for instance, psychologists are in the process of discussing the Swedish filmmaker’s works to make sense of his psychological dramas. Madrid has plans for a ‘Bergman summer’, with Spanish Cinematheque presenting a retrospective of his films till July, while Swedish Radio will be podcasting talks on his films all through the year. There’s also a guided tour of places till November at the Swedish Film Studio in Stockholm, where some historic scenes of Bergman’s films were shot. Then there are documentaries, plays and book launches planned. In London, a stage adaptation of Bergman’s 1982 masterpiece Fanny and Alexander is ongoing at The Old Vic theatre. Closer home, in New Delhi, it was the screening of the film Wild Strawberries that set off the centenary celebrations during the recently-concluded Habitat International Film Festival. The second edition of the festival, which took place from March 27-April 1, also screened his films Persona, The Seventh Seal and Autumn Sonata. “Bergman was an institution of art,” said New Delhi-based producer Suraj Kumar, whose first feature film, Thinking of Him (on the relationship between Rabindranath Tagore and Argentine poet Victoria Ocampo), was the closing film at the International Film Festival of India, Goa, in November last year. “He was perfect in telling stories for films, theatre, opera and television,” Kumar said.
Then & now
The world has changed dramatically since Bergman died on July 30, 2007. While the centenary year has already witnessed many new documentaries exploring Bergman’s genius, at least one deals with his affairs with his leading female actors, a burning topic in the times of the ‘Me Too’ movement. Asked in Bergman Island, a 2006 documentary on him by Swedish filmmaker Marie Nyrerod, about his relationship with his two leading female actors in Persona (Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann), he said, “Well, now… answer that one if you can!” The documentary, which was screened at the Habitat International Film Festival, is more open, however, on the director’s childhood and fears, explaining Bergman’s obsession with clocks (there was a grandfather clock in his house) and dead bodies. When he was 10 years old, someone locked him up in a morgue near his home. “There was a young woman lying there. She had a sheet over her, but her face was exposed. They hadn’t closed her fully and, all of a sudden, I noticed she was watching me,” Bergman recalled the horrifying experience in the documentary. The filmmaker also had an interesting experience with the Cannes Film Festival. He was sitting on the toilet, reading the newspaper one day when he saw a headline: ‘Swedish success in Cannes’. “What fun, I thought,” Bergman said in the documentary, talking about the incident. Then he realised it was about his own film, Smiles of a Summer Night (1956). It had been sent to Cannes without anyone bothering to ask Bergman. “They never asked one in those days,” he said.
Faizal Khan is a freelancer