“Check out the work from Ingmar Bergman,” said a close friend, “he defines Swedish cinema.” That was about a year and a half ago before I first arrived in Sweden.
And so I did. The first movie that I caught online was Wild Strawberries.
It was an ironic choice, on hindsight, seeing as I myself am in academia and the sacrifices especially in economic, mental and social life are still genuine issues in this field*. Wild Strawberries is widely considered one of Bergman’s greatest works focusing very much not on high intensity action but on the interplay of the soul. It is a philosophical show about the meaning of existence, what truly fills and gives our lives value.
This was followed by Shame (Skammen, 1968) and En Passion (The Passion of Anna, 1969)
So when an exhibition about Ingmar Bergman’s cinematography was put up at the Hallwyl Museum, I grabbed at the chance to check it out.Costumes worn by the cast of Fanny & Alexander during the Christmas scene (1982)
Swedish cinema and actors are today rather well known. Alicia Vikander, Alexander Skarsgård, and Malin Åkerman are currently building their careers under the bright lights of Hollywood. Before them were Greta Garbo, Ingrid Bergman and Max von Sydow. And then there was the director, Ingmar Bergman.
Ingmar Bergman is considered a legendary notable filmaker of the 20th century.
Ingmar Bergman (Source)
To many film critics he is seen as having surmounted the epitome of film-making as an art, a mountain on which young directors look up and draw inspiration from. Among those who have acknoweldged his influence on them are Woody Allen and Wes Craven.
A piece from Cries and Whispers (1971), according to the curators of the exhibition, the only film that could not be made in black and white
The dress worn by Bibi Andersson in the film Wild Strawberries (1957), it is actually made up of pastel yellow and off white stripes and was chosen to give the subtle depth that can be seen in the picture above.
Bergman’s cinematrographic themes were usually dark, heavy and very real. They were also sometimes discomforting, focusing on themes that down and depressing, including death, loneliness, love and insanity. Bergman was also a realist and minimalist, to the best of my knowledge, his films do not have high action or drama and his sets are rarely ostentatious although they are detailed and intricate.
Dresses from the first colour film of Bergman’s career, All These Women (1964)
A 1963 documentary followed the auteur at his prime while filming Winter Light – another film exploring existence and religion.
Bergman said that it was while filming this that he came to terms with his atheism.
It’s without a doubt that Bergman’s films are heavy. Maybe it was the weather that got Bergman down and gave his films that undercurrent of darkness… I don’t know. But in my estimation, all the films I have watched by Bergman do not allow me to rest or zone out. These films engage you and need your engagement to work
He may have been an auteur, but Bergman was also an entertainer. And his works also included the sensual and the natural. Beauty in his era was closely related to large buxoms and small waists and his work was shaped by the definitions of beauty then.
His frequent muse in many of these films with sensuality and sexuality intermingled was Harriet Andersson – the most well known film being Summer with Monica in 1953. This, recall, was the 1950s not the Swinging 60s and 70s and controversial, progressive of scandalous – it was the first film to screen in the United States (and by extension Hollywood and most of the world) that had a nude scene.
Another film by Harriet Andersson in which Bergman made her play the role of wild and uninhibited young sirens, perhaps setting the stage for the siren films of today.
The greatest evidence of Bergman is how his style and his themes continue to persist till today, something I kind of feel when I look at documentaries and films such as, The Swedish Theory of Love (2015),
and Songs from the Second Floor (2000).
*As they are in many many fields, especially when someone is ambitious and not working for a paycheck.