Ingmar Bergman: 1918 - 2007

Written by Various on . Posted in Obituary

ingmar bergmanLegendary film-maker Ingmar Bergman has died at the age of 89.

Cissi Elwin, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute, comments on Ingmar Bergman’s passing.

"Probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera" Woody Allen

"This is a day of sorrow in the world of film. One of the world’s most prominent filmmakers is gone.

Film in Sweden without Ingmar Bergman is almost unthinkable. For more than half a century he has led us into his own cinematic landscape – and forced us to confront ourselves. He has relentlessly asked the most important questions about being human and pointed out our vulnerability, our smallness, but also our greatness. The films are some kind of comfort. Ingmar Bergman has left us, but his films will live on – long, long after he himself is gone.

"No one working with film in Sweden doesn’t have a relationship to Ingmar Bergman. But he has also influenced filmmakers all over the world. The huge international fascination with his films has paved the way for fellow Swedish filmmakers. To this day, every day, his films are shown somewhere in the world.

"Ingmar Bergman’s importance to the Swedish Film Institute has been enormous. He took part in the development of the Film Institute and of the national film school, he took a personal interest in the question of film restoration, above all the restoration of silent films and early colour film and helped raising funds for this important work. One of the most important examples of the collaboration between Ingmar Bergman and the Swedish Film Institute is the making of Fanny and Alexander in the early 1980’s. In 2002 he donated his own collection of films, photographs, screenplays, notes and letters to the Film Institute which then formed the Ingmar Bergman Foundation together with Swedish Television, the Royal Dramatic Theatre and Svensk Filmindustri. The task of making this collection available to film scholars is still under way.

Our thoughts go to Ingmar Bergman’s family and those close to him."

Astrid Söderbergh Widding, CEO of Ingmar Bergman Foundation:

"Ingmar Bergman's passing away represents a loss of unfathomable magnitude. His artistic accomplishments were ground-breaking, unique - but also of a scope that covered film and theatre as well as literature. He was the internationally most renowned Swede, and just a few months ago his artistic achievement was incorporated into the UNESCO Memory of the World Register. We remember him as a very bold person, always present, often biting in his comments. But he was often one step ahead of his contemporaries. Even when he grew old surprises from Fårö were not unexpected. I believe it will take some time before we fully understand that he is no longer with us, but also the importance of his art to other people. The steady stream of letters arriving here at the Ingmar Bergman Foundation since its inception testifies to that."

Obituary from BBC 
Ingmar Bergman, who has died aged 89, was known as "the poet of the cinema".

One of his most acclaimed films, Fanny and Alexander, evoked the joys and terrors of the childhood that shaped his imagination.

He said it summed up his life as a film-maker, with its young hero discovering a love of the arts from a toy theatre, as the director himself had done.

Theatre and film offered an escape from a home life where personal feelings were suppressed.

He was born in 1918 and his father was Lutheran chaplain to the Swedish royal family and a strict disciplinarian.

Bergman used to help a local projectionist with film screenings, and went on to train as an actor and director at the University of Stockholm.

He became director of the Helsingborg City Theatre in 1944, the same year that saw his first film script, Frenzy, brought to the big screen by Alf Sjoberg.

Bergman went on to be a leader of the so-called "auteur" directors, whose films featured a personal visual style, tackling profound questions about love, death and God.


His directorial debut came in 1946 with Crisis, the first of more than 50 films he directed.

But it was not until the appearance of two tales of all-consuming love affairs - Summer Interlude in 1951 and Summer with Monika in 1953 - that his cinematic work was celebrated.

His career also enjoyed many lighter moments, and 1955's Smiles of a Summer Night was a comedy of sexual manners.

His reputation was confirmed by the international art-house hit The Seventh Seal in 1957.

Set during the era of the great plague, a knight played by Max von Sydow fends off death in a game of chess.

Bergman said he was "terribly scared of death" at the time.


The film, currently back in cinemas to celebrate its 50th anniversary, was said to echo modern fears of a nuclear holocaust and became an arthouse classic.

He won his first Oscar for best foreign film in 1961 with The Virgin Spring, based on a 13th-Century Swedish ballad about a family taking revenge for their daughter's murder.

Bergman, who managed to maintain a parallel career in theatre, was also fascinated by mental breakdown.

He examined it closely in films such as Through a Glass Darkly, which won a best foreign film Oscar in 1962 and explored the effect of schizophrenia on both the patient and their family.

Face to Face, made in 1976, depicted the nervous breakdown of a psychiatrist, and starred Liv Ullmann in a much-acclaimed performance.

Bergman himself suffered a mental breakdown not long afterwards.


On one occasion, a critic savaged Bergman's films in a magazine. Not until later did the director reveal himself as the author.

His personal life was problematic - he was married five times and his films often starkly examined the tensions between married couples.

Ullmann was one of several actresses with whom the director formed relationships and she starred in the famous Scenes from a Marriage.

He fathered eight children with his wives and mistresses, including one who only found out that she was Bergman's daughter when she was 22 years old.

He remained popular throughout the 1970s, celebrating his love of musical theatre in 1975 in his film of Mozart's Magic Flute.

But in 1976 he was arrested for tax evasion. Although the charge was later dismissed, it was said to have contributed to his mental problems.


Bergman took refuge in a mental health clinic before seeking exile in Germany for a decade, where he made several films.

On his return to Sweden, he announced his retirement and made Fanny and Alexander as his swansong.

Told from the perspective of two children who suffer when their mother remarries a clergyman, the film is more warm-hearted and sentimental than Bergman's austere earlier work.

The cinematic version, cut down from a five-hour long TV mini-series, earned a third best foreign film Oscar in 1982.

With film-making behind him, Bergman continued to work in theatre and television, with his last work, Saraband, shown on Swedish public television in December 2003.

When it aired, almost a million Swedes - or one in nine - watched the family drama, which was based on the two main characters from his previous TV series, Scenes From a Marriage.

 from Wikipedia


Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born in Uppsala, Sweden to a Lutheran minister of Danish descent, Erik Bergman (later chaplain to the King of Sweden), and his wife, Karin (née Åkerblom). He grew up surrounded by religious imagery and discussion. Bergman had a strict upbringing and was locked up in dark closets for infractions such as wetting the bed. He performed two five-month stretches of mandatory military service and attended Stockholm High School and Stockholm University, not completing his course in literature and art but instead becoming interested in theatre and later in cinema (though he had become a "genuine movie addict"[2] by the early 1930s).

Although he grew up in a devout Lutheran household, Bergman stated that he lost his faith at age eight but came to terms with this fact only when making Winter Light.[3]

Since the early sixties Bergman lived much of his life on the island of Fårö, where he made a number of his films. Bergman moved to Munich for a while following a protracted battle with the Swedish government over alleged tax evasion, and did not return to make another film in Sweden until 1982, when he directed Fanny and Alexander. Bergman said this would be his last film, and that he would go on to direct theater. Since that time he did make a number of films for television, but later retired to Fårö, stating in 2004 that he would never again leave the island.

Ingmar Bergman died peacefully at his home on Fårö, Gotland, Sweden, in the early morning of July 30, 2007, age 89.[4] [5]

... probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera.
Woody Allen in 1988



As a director, Bergman favored intuition over intellect, and chose to be unaggressive in dealing with actors. Bergman saw himself as having a great responsibility toward them, viewing them as collaborators often in a psychologically vulnerable position. He stated that a director must be both honest and supportive in order to allow others their best work.

His films usually deal with existential questions of mortality, loneliness, and faith; they also tend to be direct and not overtly stylized. Persona, one of Bergman's most famous films, is unusual among Bergman's work in being both existentialist and avant-garde.

While his themes could be cerebral, sexual desire found its way to the foreground of most of his movies, whether the setting was a medieval plague ("The Seventh Seal"), upper-class family life in early 20th century Uppsala ("Fanny and Alexander") or contemporary alienation ("The Silence"). His female characters were usually more in touch with their sexuality than their men, and were not afraid to proclaim it, with the sometimes breathtaking overtness (i.e. "Cries and Whispers") that defined the work of "the conjurer," as Bergman called himself in a 1960 Time magazine cover story. In an interview with Playboy magazine in 1964, he said: "...the manifestation of sex is very important, and particularly to me, for above all, I don't want to make merely intellectual films. I want audiences to feel, to sense my films. This to me is much more important than their understanding them." Film, Bergman said, was his demanding mistress. Some of his major actresses became his actual mistresses as his real life doubled up on his movie-making one.

Love -- twisted, thwarted, unexpressed, repulsed -- was the leitmotif of many of his movies, beginning, perhaps, with "Winter Light," where the pastor's barren faith is contrasted with his former mistress' struggle, tinged with spite as it is, to help him find spiritual justification through human love.

Bergman usually wrote his own scripts, thinking about them for months or years before starting the actual process of writing, which he viewed as somewhat tedious. His earlier films are carefully structured, and are either based on his plays or written in collaboration with other authors. Bergman stated that in his later works, when on occasion his actors would want to do things differently from his own intentions, he would let them, noting that the results were often "disastrous" when he did not do so. As his career progressed, Bergman increasingly let his actors improvise their dialogue. In his latest films, he wrote just the ideas informing the scene and allowed his actors to determine exact dialogue.

Repertory company

Bergman developed a personal "repertory company" of Swedish actors whom he repeatedly cast in his films, including Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson, Erland Josephson, the late Ingrid Thulin, and Gunnar Björnstrand, each of whom appeared in at least five Bergman features. Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann was the last to join this group (in the 1966 film Persona), and ultimately became most closely associated with Bergman, both artistically and personally. They had a daughter together, Linn Ullmann (b. 1966).

Bergman began working with Sven Nykvist, his cinematographer, in 1953. The two of them developed and maintained a working relationship of sufficient rapport to allow Bergman not to worry about the composition of a shot until the day before it was filmed. On the morning of the shoot, he would briefly speak to Nykvist about the mood and composition he hoped for, and then leave Nykvist to work without interruption or comment until post-production discussion of the next day's work.

When viewing daily rushes, Bergman stressed the importance of being critical but unemotional, claiming that he asked himself not if the work is great or terrible, but if it is sufficient or if it needs to be reshot.[citation needed]


Bergman encouraged young directors not to direct any film that does not have a "message," but rather to wait until one comes along that does, yet admitted that he himself was not always sure of the message of some of his films. By Bergman's own accounts, he never had a problem with funding. He cited two reasons for this: one, that he did not live in the United States, which he viewed as obsessed with box-office earnings; and two, that his films tended to be low-budget affairs. (Cries and Whispers, for instance, was finished for about $450,000, while Scenes from a Marriage — a six-episode television feature — cost only $200,000.)


1976 was one of the most traumatic in the life of Ingmar Bergman. On January 30, 1976, while rehearsing August Strindberg's Dance of Death at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, he was arrested by two plainclothes police officers, booked like a common criminal, and charged with income-tax evasion. The impact of the event on Bergman was devastating. He suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the humiliation and was hospitalized in a state of deep depression. Even though the charges were later dropped, Bergman was for a while inconsolate, fearing he would never again return to directing. He eventually recovered from the shock, but despite pleas by the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme, high public figures, and leaders of the film industry, he vowed never to work again in Sweden. He closed down his studio on the barren Baltic island of Fårö and went into self-imposed exile in Munich, Germany. Although he continued to operate from Munich, by mid-1978, Ingmar Bergman seemed to have overcome much of his bitterness toward his motherland. In July of that year he was back in Sweden, celebrating his 60th birthday at Fårö and partly resumed his work as a director at Royal Dramatic Theatre. To honour his return, the Swedish Film Institute launched a new Ingmar Bergman Prize to be awarded annually for excellence in filmmaking.[6]

However, he remained in Munich until 1982, returning in that year to his homeland to direct Fanny and Alexander. Bergman stated that the film would be his last, and that afterwards he would focus on directing theatre. Since then, he directed a number of television specials and wrote several additional scripts, while continuing to work in theatre. In 2003, Bergman, at 84 years old, directed a new film, Saraband, that represented a departure from his previous works.