Ingmar Bergman is one of my favourite directors, his prolific output matched by a consistent high quality (many of his films are deservedly respected as masterpieces). The variety in tone and subject matter throughout his ouevre is a perfect example of how a body of work can reflect the complexity of an auteur.
Via The Guardian:
Did Ingmar Bergman ever watch Die Hard? It’s a question I asked myself this Friday when I was browsing the great Swedish director’s library. I was one of a number of journalists attending Bergman Week, a series of events dedicated to the director, on Fårö, the remote Baltic island where Bergman lived from the early 1960s until his death in 2007. For a Bergman fan like myself, a visit to Fårö is a kind of pilgrimage (which would no doubt rankle with the avowedly unbelieving film-maker). It also throws up fascinating insights into his private and working life. On a visit to his home, while I was hardly surprised to see the complete works of Strindberg on the shelves, I couldn’t quite square the presence of the Bruce Willis action movie (neatly stacked next to Kieslowski’s Decalogue) with the strenuously serious, forbiddingly austere Bergman of my imagination.
In fact, Bergman was a voracious film watcher. Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell, author of the Wallander novels and married to one of Bergman’s daughters, was also in Fårö, and he told me about the screenings his father-in-law would host every day at 3pm in the state-of-the-art cinema he had built in a converted farmhouse (I saw a movie there later: Bergman’s front-row chair, complete with cushion and foot stool, is left reverentially unoccupied). Mankell remembers the director’s special fondness for the remake of Ocean’s 11 – “Jesus!” said Bergman as the credits rolled, “we need to see this again next week.”
Mankell has just written a TV biopic of Bergman (which Susanne Bier will direct next year) that explores “the high price an artist like Bergman pays for the life he lives”. Married five times with nine children, Bergman was a workaholic, and his wives and children frequently came second to film-making and theatre. “You think about your work,” Mankell said, “and you forget about your family.”
A little of Bergman’s attitude hangs in the air during my visit to his house, which he had built in the 1970s. A monument to that decade’s yen for stripped-wood furnishing (in the summer heat, the place smells like a showroom for upmarket pine furniture), Bergman’s home combines the prayerful intensity of a chapel with the hushed austerity of therapist’s consulting room. His office is spare, monastic: entirely given over to work. His chair faces away from the small window and its breathtaking view of the sea. Even incoming phonecalls, our guide tells us, were strictly rationed to an hour each week.
Most revealing of all are the markings on the door to this study, symbols scrawled on the white surface. Some of these were made by Bergman and his partner, the actor Liv Ullmann: red hearts mark happy events while black crosses stand for periods of depression. They resemble the markings an inmate would make on the wall of his cell, counting off the days – and indeed Ullmann has described her remote existence with Ingmar on Fårö as a kind of prison. She left him in the late 70s, an event Bergman poignantly notes with a black cross – as he did on a later date, when his last wife Ingrid died.
If Ullmann was never quite at ease on Fårö, Bergman seemed to have felt at home there. He arrived on the island, location-scouting for his 1961 film Through a Glass Darkly, and would shoot three more movies there. One of the touching aspects of Bergman Week was seeing the respect shown to the director by the islanders – flinty farming folk, suspicious of outsiders.
Bergman’s reputation in Sweden isn’t, perhaps, as great as it is overseas. “As a general rule,” says Jannike Ählund, who runs Bergman Week, “Bergman isn’t as beloved as someone like Astrid Lindgren.” It’s perhaps a stretch to think the director would ever command the affection granted the creator of Pippi Longstocking, but Bergman Week attempts to promote a richer idea of the director’s body of work to Swedish audiences “who like Fanny and Alexander but are put off by his more demanding work”.
This said, the week attracts some pretty fervent disciples. Outside the annual Bergman quiz, organised by the Swedish Film Institute in a local bar, I meet a visitor to the festival who has tattooed on his arm a portrait of the director and the title of his 1966 masterpiece Persona (also shot on Fårö). The quiz, incidentally, is great fun – although there’s a Bergmanesque intensity to some of the multiple-choice questions, notably No 5, which lists as possible answers: “a) female breasts, b) a female sex organ, or c) a male sex organ”. In the interests of full disclosure I should mention that your humble reporter and two other colleagues won second place – partly thanks to knowing the answer to question 5 (“What part of the human body, glimpsed in the opening moments of Persona, caused the film to be banned in some countries?”). The name of our team? Die Hard, naturally.