One of the two most thrilling interviews in my career was my talk with Ingmar Bergman at his home on his cherished Swedish island of Fårö. The other was with Charlie Chaplin at his home in Vevey, Switzerland. (Both recorded audio conversations are included in the Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.) Thus it was with very special interest that I viewed the new film “Searching for Ingmar Bergman,” directed by Margarethe von Trotta, with co-directors Felix Moeller and Bettina Böhler.
The film, which von Trotta scripted with Moeller, is a treasure trove of clips from Bergman’s many films and an assortment of interviews with him and those who have worked with him. The cumulative effect is a probe of what the great director has attempted to accomplish and inside insights into his methods and approaches, as well as the observations of those whose professional lives he has touched and drawn upon. The film has been timed to mark Bergman’s centennial. (He was born July 14, 1918, and died July 30, 2007.)
Von Trotta, who saw Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” in Paris when she was 18 years old, has said, “Ingmar Bergman inspired me to become a director. Making this film, I tried to create a path that would lead to him, but in so doing also reflect who I am as a creative artist.” She has admirably succeeded.
The director captures a sense of place in Bergman’s life when she visits Fårö and photographs the island in its combination of bleakness and charm, as well as visiting the Bergman home there.
Among her interviews elsewhere, she speaks with Liv Ullman, one of the main women in Bergman’s life. There are perceptive comments from Gunnel Lindblom, the star of Bergman’s “The Silence,” a brilliant film that I showed for many years to NYU students. French director Olivier Assayas talks at length in analyzing Bergman’s films and creativity. Among others who contribute to the panorama are Bergman sons Daniel Bergman and Ingmar Bergman, Jr.; writer-director Mia Hansem-Løve; writer Jean-Claude Carrière; writer-director Carlos Saura and actresses Gaby Dohm, Rita Russek and Julia Dufvenius.
But in the end what fascinates most are the clips assembled from Bergman’s films, including the encounter between Max von Sydow as warrior Antonius Block and Bengt Ekerot as Death in the landmark “The Seventh Seal” (1957). Other film clips range from “Wild Strawberries” (also 1957), for example, through his latter works, such as “Autumn Sonata” (1978).
Those familiar with Bergman films may delight in seeing vividly remembered moments, while those of a generation less familiar with the works of the master may be stimulated by glimpses into intriguing scenes that demonstrate his skills and may stir interest in looking up and seeing his films.
This is a film for both scholars and film fans, and also a testament to the career of von Trotta herself, whose being inspired by Bergman led to her direction of such noted works as “The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum,” “Rosa Luxemburg” and “Hannah Arendt.” An Oscilloscope Laboratories release. Reviewed November 8, 2018.