Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman 1918-2007

I did a story on directors and their muses earlier this year, and tried to get both Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann on the phone. Bergman was, of course, unreachable. He died today on the remote island of Faro on the Baltic coast of Sweden. Ullmann, though, was kind enough to call me. It wasn't possible to coordinate a time to talk, though, so she caught my voicemail one day in January before I got to work. Imagine it in a clipped Norwegian accent:

We always know how to get hold of each other both when we are working and when we are not working. By really wonderful mutual understanding. Full of respect. Trust. Recognition. And to be recognized and allowing that to happen. And a deep friendship over 42 years. I think that really sums it up. To recognize and be recognized, to trust and be trusted, and give each other enormous freedom. I give him freedom to allow me to be who I am and he gives me the freedom that I know I’m seen and understood and that makes me very eager to listen to him.

Link buffet: The Washington Post obituary. My thoughts on Ingmar and Ingrid: Careers in closeups. Stockholm weighs in. Woody Allen's immediate reaction, and his review of Bergman's autobiography. Roger Ebert's appreciation.

Below is a clip from of favorite scene from my favorite Bergman movie, 1978's Autumn Sonata (which is being roundly ignored in everyone's appreciations). It features Ingrid Bergman (no relation) as a famous concert pianist and Ullmann as her mousey, unremarkable daughter. You don't need subtitles to know exactly what's going on. Ullmann performs meekly but truly and Ingrid is wracked by pride and resentment and love. This part of the scene is shot back and forth, cutting between Ingrid's reactions and Ullmann's self-conscious playing. Then, in a gorgeous two-shot closeup, Ingmar gives us Ullmann's face as she watches Ingrid invert her praise into an object lesson. Ingmar's choice to film this part of the scene in a two-shot tells us everything we need to know about these characters: Ullmann has been and will forever be looking after (soon in both senses of the word) her mother, who plays without acknowledging the damage she's done to her daughter. And underneath all this is a haunting Chopin piece -- when Ingrid lifts her fingers from the final arpeggiated chord, both women realize they have participated in a clear demonstration of everything that's rotten about their relationship. They are quick to dismiss it, and Bergman's camera follows: At the moment Ingrid kisses Ullmann's cheek, the camera cuts to a long shot, as if it can't bear to witness this hollow effort. This scene is a painful, piercing, beautiful example of Ingmar Bergman's directorial fearlessness. He was not afraid to use the camera as a dagger.


Matt said...

Very interesting quote from LU.

Thanks for remembering. My favorite line from my favorite movie: Prof Isak Borg (Wild Strawberries) is dreaming, and inside his dream he is forced to gaze upon his own past. His "guide" tells him: "Some cherish a sweet and fading picture, but you can recall this scene at any time..."

J.J. said...

Wild Strawberries is proof of the age of Bergman's soul -- it's fascinating that he made it in the middle of his career (when he was on the cusp of 40) rather than at the end. The film reeks of "swan song," but despite what's on screen it's really about a middle-aged man anticipating his twilight, not an old man regretting his middle age.