Bibi Andersson, one of Sweden’s most famous actresses, passed away yesterday.
Born in Stockholm 1935, Andersson made her film debut at the age of fifteen, in a soap commercial directed by Ingmar Bergman, with whom she would work extensively for decades, on stage and screen alike. After several minor but distinctive roles in his films of the late fifties (including Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal), she took on the demanding leading role of nurse Alma in Persona (1966), one of the greatest performances in Swedish cinema.
Andersson’s and Bergman’s collaboration would continue, not least on the stage of the Royal Dramatic Theatre, where she would also direct plays such as Sam Shepard’s True West (1990). Though Bibi Andersson’s international career was never in par with her exceptional talent, she played in films by both Robert Altman and John Huston, as well as in Gabriel Axel’s Academy award-winning Babette’s Feast (1987).
Her international commitment went far beyond the entertainment industry. In the 1980s, she co-founded ’Artists for peace’ as part of the international peace movement, and during the Balkan war she initiated the aid project ’Open Road – Sarajevo’.
In her native Sweden, Bibi Andersson’s importance as a cultural figure cannot possibly be overstated. To her ingenues in Bergman’s films of the fifties, she brought a rare and elusive quality, sometimes saving the characters from triviality. Her later interpretations of mature women were stunning, as her title role in Keve Hjelm’s television adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie (1969), or the mother in Marie-Louise Ekman’s The Elephant Walk (1979) demonstrate. Swedish block busters of the 2000s such as Shit happens or the Arn franchise, have Andersson’s performances to thank for their memorable moments.
To everything else, Bibi Andersson was an artist of great integrity. In one of her last interviews, she would comment on her work with Ingmar Bergman: ’In his later years, he would talk so much about ”his” actors, about how much he loved ”his” actors. I’m not your bloody actress, I thought.” No, Bibi Andersson was never the actress of anybody, but in her own right an extraordinary artist.
Jan Holmberg, CEO of the Ingmar Bergman Foundation