Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman to Meet His Maker

Ingmar Bergman has passed away, and while I bear the man no ill will, I find the fulsome regret being expressed by some folk I know a bit silly. Bergman, great director that he was, was renowned for being a much less great man, admitting as such himself in his autobiography Laterna Magica, which is a wonderfully Proustian account of his life and career tinged with equal amounts of pride and regret. It is unlikely that Bergman would have been too disconsolate at the demise of many of the people he encountered over his long life and his familiar biliousness and misanthropy would have led him to scoff at those that think the cinema has lost a great talent. It is true that Bergman, like Ousmane Sembène, who passed away two months back, was working until close to his death - the majestic swansong Saraband was made three years ago - but one can hardly expect a man of his 89 years to go on forever.

My knowledge of Bergman's films is patchy; though I have seen over half of them, it has been over a period of ten years and some remain foggier in my memory than others - I still find it hard to distinguish Winter Light and Through a Glass, Darkly, more than ten years after having first seen them. In many of his films there was a mea culpa struggling to get out - Wild Strawberries in particular is a barely-disguised intellectual version of A Christmas Carol - while Scenes from a Marriage, Faithless (which he scripted for his ex-wife and sometime muse Liv Ullmann) and Saraband are all efforts to expiate his serial philandering and general unpleasantness. Personally my favourite of his films is Persona, where Bibi Andersson's mute actress grapples with her nurse, played by Ullmann. The references to God are less explicit than in the earlier films (this was made in 1966) and the shocks - as in The Silence, made a few years earlier, both more psychic and cerebral.

Bergman is not too well-known for his humour though there was, in spite of the man's almost inveterate misanthropy, an unusual strain of humanity (if not quite humanism) in many of his films, such as the early To Joy and Summer with Monika (which was absurdly marketed as soft-porn in the 1950s US). As I said there are a number of gaps in my acquaintance with the films, even if I have seen all the major works; it is only Fanny and Alexander, his greatest success - it won four Oscars - that I am missing. Thankfully his films are available on very cheap double-DVDs here in France. So it might be a good time to get back to them. Whatever about the difficulties of the man it has to be acknowledged that he took a greater interest in Swedish cinema and theatre than might have been expected for a man of such stature. Until his last days he would watch every new Swedish release (among many other films) shipped out to his island home on Fårö in the Baltic Sea. One of the few younger directors that merited his praise was Lukas Moodysson, whose very un-Bergmanesque Fucking Åmål was hailed by the old master as the 'young master's first masterpiece'.