Ingmar Bergman, one of the world's greatest filmmakers, born 100 years ago

With a movie career spanning five decades, Ingmar Bergman has become an integral part of the history of cinema. DW revisits his life and incredible masterpieces, while uncovering some surprising facts.

Secrets of Women (1952)
Bergman had already directed ten films when "Secrets of Women" hit the movie theaters: four women waiting for their husbands tell each other about their relationships. In flashbacks and with various aesthetic concepts, the Swede gave audiences insights into his view of the world. Morality and loyalty, sadness and joie de vivre are themes the director was to revisit later again and again.
Sawdust and Tinsel (1953)
Set in a circus, Bergman's "Sawdust and Tinsel" rather gloomily tells of torments of the soul, love affairs and erotic escapades. The circus ring reflecting people's emotions once again made this early work a mirror of Bergman's soul. The rather pessimistic film was no box office hit, but rather a financial flop.
Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
After the failure of "Smiles of a Summer Night", Bergman shot some lighter films that addressed the director's classical themes in a more comic way. "Smiles of a Summer Night," a social comedy set around the turn of the century before last, was a great success at the box office, but also in Cannes, where the film received a special prize for "poetic humor."
The Seventh Seal (1957)
"The Seventh Seal" was Bergman's final breakthrough, making him a respected director all over the world. The film is an allegory with a catchy theme: the individual, his "eternal search for God and death as the only security," Bergman said about this film set in the late Middle Ages, in which "Death" appeared in the flesh.
Wild Strawberries (1957)
1957 was a triumphant year for the tireless director, who also worked in the theatre. After "The Seventh Seal," Bergman delivered a second masterpiece. In "Wild Strawberries," the Swede again reflected his life onto the screen, while also looking to the future: Victor Sjostrom as Professor Isak Borg (here with Ingrid Thulin) was a vision of his own self as an old man.
The Virgin Spring (1960)
Set in medieval Sweden, "The Virgin Spring" is another film about guilt, faith, revenge and atonement. The drama received an Oscar in the category "Best Foreign Language Film" – the director was to win Oscars twice more for later films. This movie was banned in the then West German state of Bavaria because of what was, at the time, a relatively drastically staged rape scene.
The Silence (1963)
"The Silence" finally branded Ingmar Bergman a "scandal director" once and for all. Two sisters and one of the women's ten-year-old son are stranded in a hotel in a city whose language they do not understand. Explicit sex scenes and the combination of sexuality and religion came as a shock to many moviegoers in the early 1960s. The drama film was censored and banned many times.
Persona (1966)
In "Persona," Bergman focused on the medium cinema. Again, everything revolves around two women, their relationship to each other, and with the outside world. Sexuality and faith are at the center of this story, too, in a film that is formally more experimental and gave fundamental thought to art and cinema.
Cries and Whispers (1972)
Bergman again remained true to himself with this film: a deep look into the female psyche, grand emotions, brilliant actors, all in the form of a chamber play. "The film starts like Chekhov's "Three Sisters," ends like "The Cherry Orchard," with a lot of Strindberg in between," according to French director Francois Truffaut. "Cries and Whispers" was also a success at the box offices.
Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
This glimpse behind the facade of a marriage, the reality behind appearances, is the epitome of his career for Bergman connoisseurs. "Scenes from a Marriage" is about the alienation of a couple with two children who are introduced in a magazine home story as supposedly happy. Initially a six-part TV mini series shot with a small budget, the story was shortened for the big screen.
Fanny and Alexander (1982)
This period drama was also produced in two versions, as a feature film and a longer TV film. Poetic, entertaining and humorous, at times serious and full of bitterness, Bergman looked back on his childhood and family home in a semi-autobiographical story. "Fanny and Alexander" was once again a great cinematic masterpiece by the Swedish director who was in his mid-60s at the time.

Hailed by many as the greatest film director of the 20th century, Ingmar Bergman — who was born on July 14, 1918 and died more than a decade ago — was certainly one of the pioneers of the seventh art of filmmaking.

Ten years before his death, the Cannes Film Festival awarded the Swede a special prize: "The Palme of Palmes," effectively proclaiming him the best director of all time.

Such superlatives are of course questionable, but they affirm the indelible mark on the industry that Bergman has left, along with an incredible body of work.

Workaholic and extensive writer

Born in Uppsala, Sweden, Bergman was a workaholic behind the camera and on stage. Between 1946 and 2003, he directed numerous films, mostly for the big screen. He did experiment with the smaller television format early on in its development, and was also one of Europe's most influential theater directors.

He also wrote extensively: Memories and diaries, and scripts of course, a huge collection of texts that has not yet been fully indexed.

In the mid-1950s, Bergman began to see recognition from the Cannes Film Festival for his work

Bergman's films won numerous awards, including in the US, where he received three Oscars for "The Virgin Spring," "Through a Glass Darkly" and "Fanny and Alexander."

It is no secret that many of his movie industry peers revered the Swede and have tried to imitate him over and over again. The best known Bergman fan is perhaps Woody Allen. The American, probably best known as a melancholic comedy director, shot two serious films à la Bergman: "September" and "Another Woman."

Respected across the Arts world

Away from cinema, many other top names from the world of culture have spoken highly of Bergman. The new edition of his memoirs, "The Magic Lantern," which was republished recently in Germany, includes a foreword by French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Bergman pictured with Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann, with whom he had a 5-year relationship

Bergman's relationships with women have also been extensively written about. The Swede had numerous wives and affairs, often at the same time, and many of his liaisons were with his leading actresses.

"Art, for him, is a web of lies, jealousy, and erotic games, with half-funny, half-tragic dramas that produce the same clear-sighted intelligence that one would find on the battlefield, where nothing can be conquered but everything must be captured," Le Clezio described in the book's foreword.

Master of psychological drilling

Bergman's audiences were often not spared this battlefield of emotions, which the filmmaker could deliver with unbearable intensity. The Swede was one of the first to show and address eroticism and sexuality with an remarkable openness.

He also connected these deeply emotional experiences, with questions about the meaning of life, illness and death, and the search for God. The question of whether religion can ever truly help man, occupied the director time and time again.

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Behind the facade

In May, a new documentary was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival which revealed some surprising insights about the director's life.

"Bergman: A Year in a Life," by Swedish filmmaker Jane Magnusson, divulges more about Bergman's youthful Nazi sympathies — the would-be director grew up in an ultra-right wing household, and even attended one of Adolf Hitler's rallies.

The documentary also describes how Bergman exorcised what he says was his own traumatic childhood through film, which his family members argue was somewhat exaggerated.

Although what the director has revealed about his life and work should perhaps be treated with caution, the artistic power of his movies can never be understated.

Date 12.07.2018
Author Jochen Kürten (mm)