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(Ernst Ingmar Bergman)


Born: Uppsala, Sweden, 14 July 1918.

Ingmar Bergman (JPG, 10 KB)

Swedish director, a towering figure in European art cinema, whose career has throughout intertwined cinema and his other chosen medium, the theatre.

Starting out as a theatre director and manager, Bergman also wrote for both theatre and films. His earliest screen credits were for the script and assistant direction on Alf Sjöberg's Hets / Frenzy (1944), followed two years later by his first film as director, Kris / Crisis (1946). Subsequent efforts such as Det regnar på vår kärlek / It Rains on Our Love (1946) and Musik i mörker / Music in Darkness / Night is My Future (1948) were influenced by American film noir and the pessimistic mood of the mid-1940s, while Hamnstad / Port of Call (1948) was a genuflection to neo-realism. The first film over which Bergman had full artistic control was Fängelse / Prison / The Devil's Wanton (1949), an elegant blend of 1940s nightmare and urban irony. With cinematographer Gunnar Fischer and a regular troupe of actors, mainly from the Malmö Municipal Theatre, Bergman embarked on an impressive series of films in the 1950s, starting with Kvinnors väntan / Waiting Women (1952) and the successful Sommaren med Monika / Summer with Monika (1953). His greatest achievements in this period, however, are generally considered to be Gycklarnas afton / Sawdust and Tinsel (1953), Sommarnattens leende / Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), Det sjunde inseglet / The Seventh Seal (1957) and Smultronstället / Wild Strawberries (1957), the last starring the great silent film director Victor Sjöström in a powerful performance. During the 1960s Bergman's films took on more ascetic qualities. Films such as Tystnaden / The Silence (1963), Persona (1966) and Vargtimmen / Hour of the Wolf (1968) are intense psychological dramas which have their antecedents in the German Kammerspielfilm. Bergman also had considerable international success with the dreamlike but harrowing Viskningar och rop / Cries and Whispers (1973) and a series for television, also edited into a theatrical version, Scener ur ett äktenskap / Scenes from a Marriage (1974). From the 1950s to the early 1970s, Bergman's work represented the epitome of art cinema in its recourse to symbolic imagery—beautifully visualized (mostly in black and white) by Fischer and then Sven Nykvist—and especially in its serious involvement with "big" themes: death, religious faith, ethics and the modernist concerns with identity, anxiety and alienation.

While on the international scene they came to emobdy "Swedish cinema," Bergman's films have had an uneasy relationship to their national context. Critics have variously claimed that they should rather be looked upon as part of European art cinema, or as utterly personal statements related only to his own background, or as the transcendental work of a "genius." Despite their world reputation, Bergman's films were not always positively received by critics in Sweden. Animosity peaked in 1962 when despite, or possibly because of, Bergman's increasing commercial success rival Swedish director Bo Widerberg published a pamphlet attacking him for reinforcing national stereotypes and calling for a new and more socially conscious national cinema. By this time, however, Bergman's international status was unshakeable. Two films of the 1950s in particular were responsible for propelling him to the position of European auteur-in-chief—Sommaren med Monika and Sommarnattens leende. The first of these, re-released in Paris in 1957, inspired Jean-Luc Godard to write his legendary eulogy in Cahiers du cinéma entitled "Bergmanorama," in which he claimed that Bergman was both "the most original film-maker of the European cinema" and stylistically a New Wave director avant la lettre. If one dimension of Bergman's international profile was his influence on the emerging French New Wave, the other was the association of his films with an idea of "e(u)roticism." This was particularly strong in the US; Sommaren med Monika, released there in 1954, suffered and profited in equal measure from the association, prints being confiscated in Los Angeles, distributors being arrested and imprisoned and a judge declaring that the film "appeals to potential sex murderers"; Sommarnattens leende continued the prurience-driven marketing that underwrote much US art cinema exhibition; for its American release in 1957, the distribution material promoted the film as "a Swedish smorgasbord of sex, sin and psychiatry...for the grown-ups, please." In cinéphile circles, François Truffaut best summed up the impact of the eroticism of Bergman's cinema by having Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud), the young hero of Les Quatre cents coups (1959), steal a publicity still of Harriet Andersson in her décolleté sweater. Indeed Andersson, together with Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin and Liv Ullmann, was at the core of Bergman's remarkable ensemble of players (whose main male representatives are Max von Sydow and Gunnar Björnstrand) who brought to world cinema a Nordic, cool yet physical sensuality, a more tormented version than that embodied by New Wave actresses such as Jeanne Moreau and Anna Karina. Long praised for the centrality and complexity of his women characters, Bergman came under a different type of criticism in the 1970s and 1980s, when feminists pointed out that, as so often in Western culture, these women were always, precisely, equated with the sexual and biological, leaving the men free to pursue their important metaphysical quests. The fact remains that Bergman's fascination with women, combined with the charisma of his actresses, makes him the most prominent "woman's director" among European auteurs.

After a controversy with the Swedish tax authorities (later settled in his favour), Bergman left Sweden in the 1970s to work as director at the Residenztheater in Munich. He also made films, such as Das Schlangenei / Ormens ägg / The Serpent's Egg (1977, Germany/US), reminiscent in its expressionistic frenzy of his 1940s work. Most notable of his productions from this period, however, is Höstsonaten / Herbstsonate / Autumn Sonata (1978), starring Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann as a tense mother-daughter couple. With the great fresco Fanny och Alexander / Fanny and Alexander (1982), based on his own childhood memories, Bergman returned to Sweden where he also wrote scripts for other directors (Bille August and Daniel Bergman), and went back to the theatre, directing at the Royal Swedish Theatre. A prolific writer, Bergman has produced two volumes of memoirs and a stage play about the Swedish silent film director Georg af Klercker. Bedecked with award, honourary degrees and a professorship from the Swedish government, Bergman is now certainly recognized in Sweden as occupying a unique place in the country's cultural life.

— Lars-Gustaf Andersson / Bo Florin / Chris Darke,
Encylopedia of European Cinema

Ingmar Bergman: svart på vitt (Swedish-language)
Internet Movie Database
The Magic Works of Ingmar Bergman

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This page was last updated on 23 July 2000.