SEARCHING FOR INGMAR BERGMAN (2018, doc)

November 2, 2018

 Greetings again from the darkness. Despite his being one of the most productive and influential filmmakers of all-time, it’s understandable if you are concerned that a biopic of Ingmar Bergman might be a bit dry or difficult to connect with … you know, kind of like his movies. The happy truth is that Margarethe von Trotta, Felix Moeller, and Bettina Bohler have collaborated on this very interesting dig inside the mind and process of this remarkable Swedish artist.

Mr. Bergman’s best known films include: THE SEVENTH SEAL (1957), WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957), PERSONA (1966), CRIES AND WHISPERS (1972), SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE (1973), FANNY AND ALEXANDER (1982). It’s likely you have either seen all of these or none, but either way, as long as you have some interest in the history of cinema, you’ll be hooked on the multiple interviews and clips provided here.

Among those interviewed are actress Liv Ullman (she turns 80 this year), who appeared in 10 (she says 11) Bergman films. She cheerfully recalls the first time she met the director and how it led to their first collaboration, PERSONA. We also hear insight and personal stories from director and fellow Swede Ruben Ostlund (director of the terrific FORCE MAJEURE), Swedish documentarian Stig Bjorkman, and two of Bergman’s sons, Daniel and Ingmar Jr. On the personal side, we learn the legendary filmmaker was son to the Parson of a local church, married 5 different women and fathered 9 children via 6 women (his 5 wives plus Liv Ullmann), and that he wasn’t close to any of his children. He was described as viewing childhood through his own, rather than that of his kids. On his 60th birthday, there was an unusual gathering of all 9 children, many who had never previously met.

Maybe some of this is explained by Bergman’s own definition of art as “therapy for the artist”. This makes sense as so many discuss his insecurities and his own concerns with never being good enough. This despite a career of 50 plus films (many of which are studied in film classes) and nearly three times that many stage productions. Being wrongfully accused of tax evasion in 1976 affected his health and career, as well as his love of homeland Sweden. He moved to Germany before living out most of his life on the island of Faro – where he also filmed many movies.

The interviews presented here by Ms. Von Trotta (herself an accomplished filmmaker and actress) are each informative, though additional interviews from Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson (each appeared in 13 Bergman movies), and Woody Allen (the American filmmaker most closely associated with Bergman) would not just have added flavor, but were also kind of expected. The end result is that we view Bergman as the ultimate brooder, and one who had much respect and admiration for actors. Though he passed away in 2007 (the same day as director Antonioni), we are now even more convinced that Ingmar Bergman was a master of both the written word and on screen imagery.

watch the trailer:

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FORCE MAJEURE (2014, Sweden)

November 2, 2014

force majeure Greetings again from the darkness. No one has sung the words “I’m a MAN” better than the great Muddy Waters, but even he would have been unable to bounce back from the ramifications of the split-second reaction of Tomas when things go awry at a mountainside family lunch.

Writer/director Ruben Ostland delivers an intriguing and thought-provoking look at gender roles and the definition and expectations of masculinity, especially within a family. What makes a real man? What is a hero? Is our predilection of survivalist or protector hard-wired into our DNA? And what happens to a relationship when the foundation of respect crumbles? Would you believe this film tackles these emotional issues, and does so in such a brilliant manner, that we often find ourselves chuckling (albeit with a tinge of guilt)?

A family vacation in the French Alps takes a turn when, while lunching on a veranda overlooking the ski slopes, a controlled avalanche goes wrong and the café is threatened. Tomas (Johannes Bah Kuhnke) grabs his phone and goes scurrying for protection, while his wife Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) covers the kids and calls for his help. Both are instinctive reactions, and while one recalls George in a “Seinfeld” episode, the other is more in line with what we expect from a parent.

Although the avalanche turns out harmless and the family members are physically fine, the emotional shockwaves of Tomas’ actions reverberate through the family … and even through another couple (Kristofer Hivju, Fanni Metelius). There is a exceptional dinner party scene with the two couples which brings the issue to a head, and it’s excruciatingly painful and funny to witness. This is terrific story telling and filmmaking and acting.

The film is Sweden’s submission for Best Foreign Language Oscar, and it must be considered a favorite so far. Though I’m not a huge fan of the final 10-15 minutes, that doesn’t take away from the questions as the characters try to come to grips with the situation. The filmmakers provide some really nice contrasts between dark humor, disappointment and broken trust.  I challenge you to find scenes of toothbrushing that generate more tension and relationship insight.

**NOTE: I wasn’t familiar with the actors who play Tomas and Ebba, but they reminded me very much of Stephen Dorff and Bridget Moynahan

watch the trailer: