87 Bergman Things Redux

When I embarked upon my majestic Ingmar Bergman journey (ahem) there basically were two reasons for doing so: 1) I really wanted to, and c) it’s silly, and XIV), this box set had been released:

I thought it was a complete collection, but it’s basically half his output.

I’ve seen most of Bergman’s films before, but it’s been a long time, and I’ve never seen them in any sort of chronological order, so my sense of his career wasn’t anything beyond “hey, his early films were a bit naff or what?” I vaguely thought that there were The Three Stages of Bergman: Early, Good, Late.

There’s a danger in getting too detailed and losing the knowledge by providing too much data (i.e., every single film getting its own category would be pretty useless), but I think chopping his career into five parts is somewhat useful:

The Early Years of Bitter Struggle

In the beginning, even if he was a child (er, 20s) prodigy, the films he was involved with the first five years are mostly not very interesting. If you’re a Bergman fanatic, you can recognise a few Bergman tics in these films, but they’re things Bergman did because he wanted to make films, not because he knew what he was doing. The exception here is “Prison”, which is rather thrilling. But if Bergman had stopped making movies after this run, nobody would have remembered him.

1944: Torment
1946: Crisis
1946: It Rains On Our Love
1947: A Ship Bound For India
1948: Music in Darkness
1948: Port of Call
1949: Prison
1949: Thirst
1950: To Joy
1950: This Can’t Happen Here

Infant Terrible Successful

Starting with Summer Interlude, he made films that were commercially successful. Perhaps mostly because they featured scantily clad gorgeous Swedish women, but the financial freedom meant that the studio didn’t interfere ever again, and Bergman could do whatever he wanted. Virtually all his iconic movies are from this period. That is, whenever you see a Bergman parody, they pick scenes from The Seventh Seal or Wild Strawberries or something. And all of these films are very watchable. The only thing is, the next period he stepped it up even further.

1951: Summer Interlude
1952: Secrets of Women
1953: Summer with Monika
1948: Eva
1953: Sawdust and Tinsel
1954: A Lesson in Love
1955: Dreams
1947: Woman Without a Face
1955: Smiles of a Summer Night
1957: The Seventh Seal
1957: Wild Strawberries
1957: Nattens ljus
1958: Brink of Life
1958: The Magician
1960: The Virgin Spring
1960: Storm Weather
1960: The Devil’s Eye
1961: Through a Glass Darkly
1961: Lustgården
1963: Winter Light

Golden Years

Bergman has gotten his entire troupe and crew together. He has Sven Nykvist, Liv Ullmann, Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Bibi Andersson, Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin, Harriet Andersson, Gunnel Lindblom… And he’d gotten influenced by the French Nouvelle Vague. He could do no wrong in the period (except The Touch, which is a harbinger of things to come in some ways). These are all non-required watching.

1963: The Silence
1964: All These Women
1966: Persona
1968: Hour of the Wolf
1968: Shame
1969: The Rite
1969: The Passion of Anna
1971: The Touch
1972: Cries & Whispers

Mystery and Confusion

The 70s were confusing. Bergman made his own production company, and he really got involved with TV. Many of the productions from this period were produced with TV in mind, but then edited down for theatrical releases. And, wonders of wonders, many of these productions were amazingly successful, and made Bergman (finally) a rich man. Scenes from a Marriage was a phenomenon throughout Europe (you can allegedly see when it was shown in each country by looking at the divorce statistics for that country), and the period wound down with Bergman’s most beloved production ever, Fanny & Alexander. On the other hand, it includes some of Bergman’s worst work ever, like The Serpent’s Egg.

1973: Scenes from a Marriage
1975: The Magic Flute
1976: Face to Face
1976: The Dance of the Damned Women
1977: The Serpent’s Egg
1978: Autumn Sonata
1979: Fårö Document 1979
1980: From the Life of the Marionettes
1982: Fanny & Alexander


Bergman was back in Sweden after being a voluntary tax exile, and decided to stop making films for the cinema after Fanny & Alexander. Going out on a high. The next two decades Bergman mostly worked as a theatre instructor (he’d been doing that from the start alongside his cinema career), but wrote a handful of scripts based on his autobiography for others to direct. But he also directed a few more TV theatre projects himself. But basically this period is Bergman letting go, and as with his first period, nothing of this is essential. But there are things of interest for Bergman fanatics.

1984: After the Rehersal
1986: The Blessed Ones
1992: Madame de Sade
1992: Sunday’s Children
1993: The Bacchae
1992: The Best Intentions
1995: The Last Gasp
1996: Private Confessions
1997: In the Presence of a Clown
2000: Faithless
2000: The Image Makers
2003: Saraband

While watching these films I’ve also been reading about them on the interwebs. The Bergman Institute has an article per production, and some of them are very interesting, well-written and funny. I’ve also been listening to Bergmanpodden (it’s in Swedish), and I’m not very surprised to find that the critics there judge his works less positively than I do.

But I’ve also googled randomly to see what people consider to be Bergman’s most Bergman films, and there’s something of a consensus. Most people namecheck Persona and Cries and Whispers, and these are indeed the films that Bergman himself felt were his best, most true movies.

And I agree; they’re totes amazeballs.

The disagreement comes with the third film to be included. Some people go for From the Life of the Marionettes just to be contrarian, I think: It’s a early-80s film and it’s, for once, a film that’s somewhat hostile to women. So naturally that’s the one male critics gravitate towards, since Bergman is otherwise mostly just interested in his female characters. A handful of them fail the reverse Bechdel test (i.e., there are no men who talk to each other in them), which is extremely unusual in cinema.

Fanny & Alexander is popular with many, of course, and that’s even easier to see: It’s a really fun film to watch. It’s the kind of thing you can watch again and again because it has such sense of mood and place. And it’s about childhood Xmas, so there’s that, too.

And some pull out Saraband as their third choice, and that’s understandable, too, because it’s his swan song. And of course, Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal is very popular among, er, people who haven’t seen that many Bergman films, is my impression.

I’m going to go contrarian contrarian with my choice for inclusion in the trinity: A Lesson in Love from 1954. It’s a trifle, but Gunnar Björnstrand and Eva Dahlbeck are just scintillating in it, and it’s hilarious. It’s perfect.

So there.

BTLXXXVII 2004: Bergman Island

Bergman Island. Marie Nyreröd. 2004. ⭐⭐⭐★★★.

This is basically a long interview with Bergman. Apparently these filmmakers were the first who was given access to film at Bergman’s home at the Färö island, and it’s a rather fabulous place.

But this is not a completely successful documentary. It seems to want to wring too much meaning and pathos out of every single scene, so while Bergman says some interesting things, the editing and the soundtrack makes me want to roll my eyes.

And it’s so unstructured… It’s kinda chronological, but… It’s excruciating to watch Bergman trying to explain how he ended up marrying just about all the female actors he ever met (slight exaggeration) and why he never had any contact with most of his nine children.

Bergman says that it was difficult to do A Dream Play in German because “Det är synd om människorna” not in any way means the same as “Es ist schade um die Menschen”. Heh. The English version is apparently “Human beings are to be pitied!”? “Mankind is to be pitied!” That’s… a pity. I’d say, like… “Poor human beings.” But that has a completely different form, of course… I got this from a DVD, but it’s a weird version. There’s oodles of digital artefacts; not just because of low bandwidth, but digital errors, I think.

This post is part of the 87 Bergman Things series.

BTLXXXVI 2003: Behind Saraband

Yes, he’s painting the leaves with yellow paint to make it look more like autumn.

Behind Saraband (I Bergmans regi). Torbjörn Ehrnvall. 2003. ⭐⭐⭐⭐★★.

This is the “making of” documentary from Saraband, Bergman’s final film (both as a director and a writer). He’s a very spry 85 year old here. Still a very hands on, not to say handsy, director.

Saraband was filmed for TV (as all Bergman’s directorial efforts after Fanny & Alexander), but it was given a theatrical release (the first one since After the Rehearsal (in 1984), which was given a limited theatrical release against Bergman’s will). Curiously enough, it was filmed on one of the first generations of high definition digital cameras. So many things from that era look weird because digital cameras were crap back then, but this looks very nice.

However, they made so much noise (fans to keep the digital circuitry cool) that Bergman’s technical crew had to spend a lot of time cladding the cameras in sound-proof material, and still they made so much noise that Bergman decided to only use one camera at a time instead of the three-camera shooting he had planned. (Bergman is very particular about how his films sound like.) So instead of the normal multi-camera aesthetic Bergman had been going for during the past two decades, this feels more like a “real” film than anything since, well, Fanny & Alexander.

This is mostly fly-on-the-wall, but there’s also tiny interviews with the cast and staff interspersed. Of all of these Swedish docus, this is perhaps the least revealing.

This post is part of the 87 Bergman Things series.

BTLXXXV 2003: Saraband

Saraband. Ingmar Bergman. 2003. ⭐⭐⭐⭐★★.

Bergman’s winding down of his career over several decades is deliberate and well-directed: He said goodbye to directing films with his most successful production Fanny & Alexander (a tribute to his grandmother); his final film script was Faithless (where he sort of apologised for his life); he wound down his theatre career with The Image Makers (a look back at his earliest inspirations) and finally ended his TV production with this one, Saraband, which is a continuation of Scenes from a Marriage, but has so many references to his entire life.

Has anybody else in the biz been so careful in how they end things?

The film was premiered on Sveriges Television’s Channel 2 on 3rd December 2003. A few days after the premiere, Dagens Nyheter was able to announce with barely disguised relief that Saraband had attracted 990,000 viewers, a figure comparable to the popular soap of the time, Skeppsholmen, the latest episode of which had been seen by 755,000 people. History can never tell then extent of audience overlap between the two programmes, yet SVT regarded Saraband as an resounding success.

Heh heh.

Anyway, it’s an unusually structured film. There are four characters, and we get a conversation between every permutation of pairs of characters. So that’s… er… where’s my slide rule… Six conversations.

This post is part of the 87 Bergman Things series.

BTLXXXIV 1978: The Making of Autumn Sonata

The Making of Autumn Sonata. Ingmar Bergman. 1978. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐.

This bluray showed up in my mailbox the other day, and I was all “wat” because I’ve already seen Autumn Sonata. But after ripping it I recalled that the reason I bought it was that there’s a huge “making of” film included: It’s three and a half hours long! Oh em gee!

So we’re way off the Bergman chronology here (we really only have one film to go before we’re done (and two documentaries) and Bergman is, er, done), but let’s cast our eyes back to the late 70s:

Bergman is in exile because of the tax drama and making a film with Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullman in Norway, of all places. And this is a fly-on-the-wall documentary about making that film. And the documentary is more than two times as long as the film it’s about.

This is chronologically the first of these documentaries, but it’s the fourth? I’ve watched, and it’s totes fasc. Inating.

Ingrid Bergman is very difficult; it’s wonderful. Every other line she’s going “nobody would say that; can’t I say instead?” And she’s right, of course. Ingmar Bergman’s lines aren’t exactly naturalistic.

Liv Ullmann just performs the lines in every rehearsal, and the performance is bone-shiveringly perfect in every read-through. She’s a machine.

Heh heh. Ullmann pointed out at possibly funny interpretation to the lines that (Ingmar) Bergman just came up with and they all laughed. And then (Ingmar) Bergman said to her (sorta privately, but in this docu) “You’re so stupid.”

She makes all the jokes in this docu.

This post is part of the 87 Bergman Things series.

BTLXXXIII 2000: The Image Makers

The Image Makers (Bildmakarna). Ingmar Bergman. 2000. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐★.

This is the TV version of what Bergman wanted to be his final theatre staging. If you think “TV theatre”, this is it: It has an aesthetic that harks back to (or emulates perfectly) the first wave of “TV theatre” in the 60s and 70s when they could finally do video editing.

So it looks quite unadjusted from the theatre staging, I assume. Unlike his other TV versions of things he’s done on the stage, the actors are really acting out and not dialling it back for the camera.

I love it.

It’s the perfect Bergman project: It’s about Selma Lagerlöf watching the movie version of her 1912 novel Kórkarlen in 1921. So we get Lagerlöf (who’s the most famous author in Sweden at the time) interacting with some definitely low rent movie people, and drama ensues.

Anita Björk is absolutely riveting. However, it loses a bit of its tension in the second act when she’s not present.

It is, curiously enough, the only of Bergman’s TV plays (I think) that have been given a DVD release (with the 1921 Körkarlen film as a double feature; bless Tartan Video). All the other ones I had to get from torrents, pirates and region-blocked web sites.

This post is part of the 87 Bergman Things series.

BTLXXXII 2000: Faithless

Faithless (Trolösa). Liv Ullmann. 2000. ⭐⭐⭐⭐★★.

Another film directed by Liv Ullmann, but this time without Sven Nykvist. It’s a film about making a story, and also about that story. It’s a fun way to approach this story, but it’s a pretty harsh self-portrait Bergman’s painted of himself. (Assuming that the young asshole of a director is Bergman himself.) Bergman is looking back on his life with a sense of shame, apparently. Or it may be Ullman’s framing…

The rehearsal to A Dream Play is hilarious. Stina Ekblad as a horrible Indra’s daughter is brilliantly awful.

But… while there are fabulous scenes here, it doesn’t quite come together for me. I just lost interest after three or four hours.

It was not a success internationally, but was well-received in Sweden.

This post is part of the 87 Bergman Things series.