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.
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-