Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Liv & Ingmar

Ingmar Bergman has been my favorite film director since I spent a quiet, warm June night a few years ago watching The Seventh Seal (twice). I had never seen anything remotely like it, and from that point on, I was utterly intoxicated by watching the cinematic world through Bergman’s eyes.

I was first exposed to the great Liv Ullmann through Bergman’s Cries and Whispers, a film, like most of Bergman’s best, that continues to haunt and inspire me inexplicably. I was (and am) completely entranced with Cries and Whispers, much in part to the perfect, emotive face of Liv Ullmann. I had never seen anything remotely like it, and from that point on, I was utterly intoxicated by watching a film unfold strictly by paying attention to Ullmann’s facial expressions.

So, yeah, I’m a fan. The Bergman/Ullmann collaboration produced 10 films, many of which have remained Bergman’s most well revered. A documentary about their fruitful and tumultuous relationship should be pure gold to me. Should be. Indeed.
Several years ago, Indian filmmaker Dheeraj Akolkar became taken with Ullmann’s memoir, Changing. Once Bergman passed away in 2007, the idea for Liv & Ingmar popped into Akolkar’s head, and he’s been fighting to get it made since. Ullmann finally relented, but only agreeing to two days of shooting, in her native Norway and the Swedish island, Fårö, where she lived with Bergman for a number of years.

Now, I mention this because, quite honestly, it is very easy to tell that Akolkar was not given ample time to craft a full documentary. Liv & Ingmar is roughly 85 minutes long, and a major portion of that is spent looking at various gorgeous Nordic and Swedish landscapes. The shots are wholly impressive, but cinematographer Hallvard Bræin has a little help by the already-stunning scenery. Anyway, what Akolkar gets out of Ullmann is great, remarkable even, but I was left wanting so much more.

The film plays as though Akolkar has only skimmed the surface of the four decade-long relationship Ullmann and Bergman had. How they met and quickly fell in love on the set of Persona, a love that turned jealous and spiteful after moving into an expansive, isolated home on Fårö. Truth is, Bergman could be a relative monster to the women in his life. Ullmann recounts horrendous stories of emotional abuse on the sets of Shame, Hour of the Wolf and The Passion of Anna, before she took herself and her son with Bergman to Hollywood.
After reaching success in Hollywood but craving to return to Swedish cinema, Bergman openly accepted her, and the two remained the closest of friends while creating masterpieces like Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage, Face to Face, and more.

In addition to the Ullmann interviews, Akolkar uses footage from the Bergman/Ullmann collaboration to clearly highlight where their relationship was at the time they made a specific film. Monologues from The Hour of the Wolf, for example, perfectly mirror the apologetic desperation Bergman expressed to Ullmann in letters, while physically abusive sequences from Scenes from a Marriage are evident of the couple’s once true turmoil.

It’s an interesting narrative device: showing point blankly how art imitates life, but, again, it just isn’t enough. Footage from some Bergman/Ullmann films is curiously absent. Face to Face is rarely discussed, as is Autumn Sonata. And that’s a pretty good fair way to sum the movie up: Liv & Ingmar is great at exploring new facets of two fascinating people, but there is so much left unseen. I’m extremely glad I saw it, but the sense of longing nearly outweighs any good this documentary contains. B-


  1. Wonderful review man. I do want to see this, but I'll keep my expectations down. A rewatch of Cries and Whispers seems in order now.

    1. Thanks dude. I was legit bummed that this wasn't as good as I had hoped. But like I said, I'm glad I saw it, no doubt.

      There is NEVER a bad time to rewatch Cries and Whispers. Movie is perfect.

  2. The idea of a film about Bergman/Ullman would definitely intrigue me. I'll probably see this but the fact that you mentioned some of their collaboration aren't mention is disappointing. I'm still eager to see this as well as more Bergman films in the future.

    1. Cool man. Yeah, this is definitely a worthy watch, but it isn't half of what it could be. Hope you enjoy it and future 'Bergs!

  3. I'm also a huge fan of Bergman and Ullmann, and also of Ullmann's directorial efforts (Private Confessions; Faithless).

    This summer she was in Montreal at the premiere of Liv and Ingmar. You and your readers may be interested in this interview she did with local media The Montreal Gazette. http://bitly.com/TGW2aI

    .Great blog, BTW I found you through Twitter while doing a Twitter search for "Ingmar Bergman".

    1. Hey Brian, thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! I cannot tell you how awesome it is that you found my blog by searching "Ingmar Bergman" in Twitter. That makes me very very proud, so thanks!

      Glad to hear you're a Bergman/Ullmann fan, going to watch the interview now!