NK department stores in Stockholm and Gothenburg kick-start the Year of Bergman celebrations by finding inspiration in Fanny and Alexander for their traditional Christmas window displays. Magical scenes occupy the displays, directed at children without denying the darker undertones of Ingmar Bergman’s film.

I have seen many adaptations of Fanny and Alexander on stage, and I can attest to this being one of the finest visual interpretations I have ever laid my eyes on. It's one thing to enact a play over the course of a few hours, but to capture the essence of this piece in just a few display windows - as NK and JoAnn Tan Studios have done - is very impressive,' Jan Holmberg, CEO of the Ingmar Bergman Foundation, stated.

Fanny and Alexander dream

'We are very happy to have been given the opportunity to fill our windows with our interpretation of the fantastic Christmas scenes from Fanny and Alexander. We are incredibly proud to promote our Swedish cultural heritage in both Stockholm and Gothenburg, and feel this strengthens NK's position as a cultural and commercial theatre,' stated Daniel Stipich, head of marketing at Nordiska Kompaniet (NK).

Alexander under the Christmas table

About the Year of Bergman, #Bergman100
2018 marks 100 years since Ingmar Bergman was born. Not only one of the world's leading film directors of all time, Bergman was also an outstanding writer and legendary theatrical director. Even after his death in 2007, Bergman continues to be one of the most staged playwrights in Scandinavia. Ingmar Bergman was born in Uppsala, Sweden, on 14 July 1918, and the 100-Year Jubilee, which began during the autumn of 2017 and runs throughout 2018, will be celebrated the world over with theatrical performances, exhibitions, film retrospectives, documentaries, book publications and festivals.

By Geoff Andrew

”Here, at last, was a filmmaker whose readiness to confront the ‘big questions’ made him the equal of those towering figures working in other, more widely respected artforms: novelists, poets and playwrights, composers, painters and sculptors.”

When they hear or see the words Ingmar Bergman, most people – if, of course, they recognise the name at all – probably think of a gloomy Swede obsessed with human suffering, angst and mortality. There might also spring to mind an image of a medieval knight on a sea shore playing a game of chess with Death - or at least with a white-faced man in a black hood and cloak. Such pigeon-holing is perhaps inevitable, given that The Seventh Seal (1957) is not only one of Bergman’s most famous films but has been much mimicked, mocked and referenced: it even featured in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991).

The Seventh Seal © Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman

But one should always be wary of stereotypes.  Bergman’s enormous contribution to the arts – besides the many works he wrote and directed for the cinema and television, he consistently maintained a hugely successful and influential parallel career in the theatre – is considerably more varied than any miserabilist caricature might suggest. Furthermore, for all its iconic notoriety, The Seventh Seal is atypical; though Bergman did set a handful of his stories in the past, most of his films had contemporary settings, and he generally steered well clear of allegory. Indeed, though it has its good points, Bergman’s best known film is far from his best film, and those unfamiliar with his work who would like to find out what the fuss is all about would do well to begin by exploring elsewhere.

While it would be absurd and misleading to downplay Bergman’s interest in the more painful and problematic aspects of everyday existence (at least as it is experienced by those for the most part unaffected by economic hardship in the affluent West), it is important to emphasise the fact that his films are not in themselves ‘depressing’.

True, many of them deal with characters undergoing some kind of crisis, and do so in a way which is often remarkable for its unflinching honesty. (Few if any filmmakers have been so adept at depicting the subtle but savage acts of verbal and mental cruelty humans can inflict on one another.) Yet Bergman’s cinematic and dramaturgical skill is such that one is often utterly engrossed in a film from beginning to end, and emerges from it invigorated by his artistry, exhilarated by his audacity, and strangely heartened by his keen, compassionate understanding of what it means to be alive.

Of course, over a career that spanned more than half a century, Bergman’s achievements were uneven, and certainly his earliest films as a director feel like apprentice works compared to the extraordinary achievements of the late 50s and thereafter. Nevertheless, those immature works reveal a rapidly developing talent of no little intelligence, ambition or promise. Even the first of his scripts made into a film – Torment (1944), directed by Alf Sjöberg – is notable for its astute grasp of the dark, sadomasochistic undercurrents that may shape human relationships. As for his own directorial efforts, after a number of films displaying the influence of Italian neorealism, around the start of the 1950s he began to reveal his own distinctive sensibility with impressive works like Thirst (1950), Summer Interlude (1951), Summer with Monika (1953) and Journey Into Autumn (1955).

Summer with Monika © AB Svensk Filmindustri

What distinguishes these films – apart from their very fine acting and the atmospheric cinematography of regular collaborator Gunnar Fischer – is a fascination with the seemingly inevitable tensions that arise in male-female relationships: tensions emanating, usually, from the conflict between a woman’s need and desire for a properly fulfilling life and a man’s inability or reluctance – due to pride, vanity, short-sightedness or whatever – to respond sympathetically to that need and desire. While it would be misleading to characterise these and subsequent films as ‘feminist’, it is nevertheless true that Bergman, throughout his career, not only made an unusually large number of films focused primarily on the point of view of a woman, but portrayed his male characters in a somewhat less positive light than their female counterparts.

It was with the prize-winning triple-whammy of Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) – a delightfully spiky comedy of marital manners – The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries (1957) – a road-movie in which an elderly academic takes stock of his life, and arguably Bergman’s warmest film – that Bergman established his international reputation as the world’s leading arthouse auteur. Here, at last, was a filmmaker whose readiness to confront the ‘big questions’ made him the equal of those towering figures working in other, more widely respected artforms: novelists, poets and playwrights, composers, painters and sculptors. In creating works that examined how we live with ourselves and one another, where the world is going, whether God exists, how to find happiness, and so forth, Bergman once and for all demolished any notion that film could and should only be about escapist entertainment. Undoubtedly, this was no industry hack; this was an artist.

Yet his very finest works were still to come. With the loose ‘trilogy’ of Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1962) and The Silence (1963), Bergman forged a new style for himself, that would endure more or less unchanged until Saraband (2003), made at the end of his career. Visually, with his new regular cinematographer Sven Nykvist, he created a crisper, simpler, more sharply focused look consisting largely of stark, uncluttered compositions and facial close-ups.

Winter Light © AB Svensk Filmindustri

This was mirrored, in narrative terms, by a shift to stories involving fewer individuals – they were, he said, essentially chamberworks – from which all superfluous detail had been pared away. Without needless delay, we are quickly plunged, as if into an icy pool, into the heart of the matter, whatever that may entail: in the trilogy, a family faced with the swiftly declining sanity of one of its members; a priest undergoing a loss of faith; the relationship of two sisters ravaged by resentment and illness. The camera’s unblinking gaze, the fearless performances, the attention to the Aristotelian unities of action, time and place, and the taut narrative economy all make for bracingly intense viewing.

There followed many masterworks, most memorably, perhaps, the extraordinary Persona (1966), in which an actress, struck dumb by her sudden recognition of the cruel horrors of the modern world, becomes involved in a strangely symbiotic relationship with the talkative nurse assigned to oversee her convalescence.

Persona © AB Svensk Filmindustri

This began a series of marvellously inventive, incisive and insightful studies in fragile human psychology and fraught interaction, works whose elegant formal qualities were always at the service of content and meaning. The nightmarish images of Hour of the Wolf (1968) bring to vivid life the mental turmoil of a painter (many of Bergman’s films centre, somewhat self-reflexively, on creative figures of one kind or another); the sombre red walls and furnishings that surround the sisters in Cries and Whispers (1972) – one of the great films about death – were in line with Bergman’s notions of the colour of the interior of the human soul; and the forthright, up-close-and-personal visual style then prevalent in television was the perfect medium for the illuminatingly intimate look at marital strife and breakdown in Scenes from a Marriage (1973), and for the likewise brilliant account of familial tensions in Fanny and Alexander (1983).

Cries and Whispers. Photo: Bo-Erik Gyberg © AB Svensk Filmindustri

Thereafter, Bergman concentrated largely on theatre, occasional television films, and scripts he wrote for others to direct; the best known were for Best Intentions (1992), directed by Bille August, and Faithless (2001), directed by Liv Ullmann, his one-time partner and the lead actress in many of his masterworks of the 60s and 70s. (Bergman worked regularly with a repertory group of grade-A actors – including Harriet Andersson, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnel Lindblom, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow and Erland Josephson – and was repeatedly rewarded with performances of amazing subtlety and power.) But as his memorably dark swansong Saraband displayed, both his courage and his genius remained magnificently undimmed. The film may have been his final screen credit as writer-director, but with its frighteningly frank account of pride, vanity, cruelty, guilt, frailty and fear, it was one more reminder that Bergman was – and always had been – a filmmaker quite unlike any other. In returning, over and over, to his favourite subject – the individual human psyche, in all its mysterious complexity – he had taken inspiration not from other movies, but from life. And that life had been his own.

Saraband. Photo: Bengt Wanselius © SVT Bild

This piece – an introduction to the work of Ingmar Bergman – was written for the website of the Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle, which in November 2017 mounted a brief season of his films.

 

Geoff Andrew is a film critic, programmer and lecturer. He has written and contributed to numerous books on the cinema, and curated the forthcoming Bergman retrospective at London's BFI Southbank. He currently writes on film, music and the arts at geoffandrew.com

Geoff Andrew. Photo: Raluca Ciornea.
Skrivet 31 Oct 2017

Luther and Bergman

On October 31, 2017, Martin Luther’s recorded posting of the 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberger church castle celebrates its 500th anniversary. In Germany the exhibition Luther! 95 Treasures - 95 People, and a book with the same title, is one of many initiatives over the year.

Jan Holmberg, CEO for the Ingmar Bergman Foundation, contributed with this text about Ingmar Bergman:

Ingmar Bergman

Film Director, Sweden, 1918–2007

‘I believe a human being carries his or her own holiness, which lies within the realm of the earth; there are no otherworldly explanations.’

To the extent that western filmmakers express a religious faith at all, Catholics seem to be somewhat overrepresented (Bresson, Ford, Hitchcock, Rohmer, Scorsese etc.). Important Protestant filmmakers appear to be fewer in number. In fact, their only truly famous representative is Ingmar Bergman. I will refrain from speculating whether this is merely a coincidence or whether it reflects differing theological views on the image. However, notwithstanding Ingmar Bergman’s powerful and highly influential imagery, I would claim that his cinema is deeply rooted in the written word, indicative of his Protestant upbringing. Sola scriptura is a central Lutheran idea and in his screenplays and other books, diaries, and many letters, Bergman seems to have taken this ad notam. Indeed, Bergman’s adversaries have often criticised his films as being too ‘literary’.

The facts are briefly these: the son of a clergyman, Bergman grew up in a milieu where churchgoing, sermons and various religious services abounded. That many of his films deal with theological questions is something of an understatement and is reflected, not least, in the fact that several of their titles are direct quotations from the Bible. One of these, The Seventh Seal (1957), earned Ingmar Bergman the status of cinema’s religious philosopher par excellence. Another Bible-quoting title, Through a Glass Darkly(1961), was the first film in his so-called ‘trilogy on the silence of God’. At the end of the film, a father and his son are shown talking together, clearly for the first time in a long time. When the son declares that it is impossible to believe in God, the father replies that love is proof of God’s existence.

St John’s assertion that ‘God is Love’, echoed by St Paul in his Corinthians 1, from which the title of the film is taken, can also be understood in reverse: if God is absent or silent, it is because there is no love – without love, no God. A variation on the same theological theme is the subject of Bergman’s next film Winter Light (1963). Here, a clergyman is beset by doubt. His liturgical duties are reduced to empty rituals and the pastoral care he offers to the members of his congregation takes the form of inept introspection. In the final scene of the film he is about to hold a service. But only one person has turned up – his mistress, moreover an overt atheist. To the cantor’s and churchwarden’s surprise, the pastor declares that the service will go ahead regardless, and the film ends with him addressing the empty pews: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty. Heaven and earth are filled with his glory.’

This is a very Bergmanesque ending. Given the horrific things that have happened during the course of the film, the closing lines seem deeply ironic. Where is the glory of which the pastor speaks? Yet the new expression on his face suggests that now, and for the first time, he actually believes what he is saying.

Bergman has been referred to as a ‘Protestant atheist’, but whether he believed or not, his work is undoubtedly deeply rooted in a Christian and specifically Lutheran tradition.

/Jan Holmberg
 

For further reading:

Ingmar Bergman: Bilder, Köln 1991.

Im Bleistift-Ton: Ein Werk-Porträt, hrsg. von Renate Bleibtreu, Frankfurt a. M. 2002.

Wahre Lügen: Bergman inszeniert Bergman, hrsg. von Kristina Jaspers, Nils Warnecke und Rüdiger Zill, Berlin 2012.


Bergman Anecdotes is a compilation of stories about Ingmar Bergman, interviews with people who were close to the director. These short clips are produced to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of Bergman’s birth that takes place in 2018.

Former Press agent and Theatrical publisher Berit Gullberg on Fanny and Alexander and "The hand of God"...

Director and writer Stig Björkman about the infamous "anti-Ingmar Bergman issue" in Chaplin Magazine...

Bergman Anecdotes is a compilation of stories about Ingmar Bergman, interviews with people who were close to the director. These short clips are produced to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of Bergman’s birth that takes place in 2018.

The Ingmar Bergman Foundation releases pocket guide to the world of Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman A-Ö is a tribute to one of cinema’s true greats. It provides a quick and easy guide into the world of the Swedish film director, theatre man and writer who would have been 100 years in 2018.

A collection of 146 anecdotal trivia and unknown facts Ingmar Bergman A-Ö shows the many faces and facets of an artist who not only transformed the medium of lm through unforgettable works like The Seventh Seal, Persona and Fanny and Alexander, but also changed our view of human relationships and existence.

Both a recluse and a crowd-pleasing charmer, Bergman managed to keep the most private parts of his life out of public view. Ingmar Bergman A-Ö brings the reader a little bit closer to Ingmar Bergman the man, while providing a fun and highly acces- sible reminder of what makes his work great. The book is the first ever quick guide to his remarkable life and work.

Ingmar Bergman A-Ö will be released by The Ingmar Bergman Foundation and Norstedts in September 2017 to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of Bergman’s birth that takes place in 2018.

 

Ingmar Bergman, filmmaker, theatre director and author, is one of Sweden’s all-time leading creative forces. Born in Uppsala, Sweden, on 14 July 1918, Bergman will be celebrated the world over on the 100-year anniversary of his birth, with festivities beginning this autumn and continuing throughout 2018.

Yesterday the Swedish government publicly announced that the Ingmar Bergman Foundation, established in 2002 by Ingmar Bergman himself, will receive funding to co-ordinate and communicate the 100-Year Jubilee.

Alice Bah Kunke, the Swedish Minister of Culture and Democracy, issued a press release stating, ‘Ingmar Bergman’s legacy constitutes an equally unique and wonderful part of our Swedish cultural heritage. The government will most certainly be increasingly involved throughout the Bergman jubilee celebrations.’

‘Through their contribution, the Swedish government demonstrates that the Bergman 100-Year Jubilee is a national affair, something for all. Which is precisely what it shall be,’ stated Jan Holmberg, CEO of the Ingmar Bergman Foundation.


#Bergman100 – Read more about how you can join in on the Ingmar Bergman 2018 celebrations!