Prolific Swedish director Ingmar Bergman was known for his films, which focus on the bleakness of human connection and themes of religious repression, sexual frustration and existentialism. Central to a number of Bergman’s films was his relationships with his repertory company, a group of Swedish actors he repeatedly cast in his films, most notably his self-described muse, actress Liv Ullmann. In honor of Bergman’s upcoming centennial, Ullmann spoke at the Film Forum on March 3 about the legacy of the great Bergman.
Running through March 15, the Film Forum is showing over 30 of Bergman’s films, including more notable films like “Shame,” “Persona” and “Scenes from a Marriage.”
Ullman discussed her relationships with the characters she played, her understanding of the films and how they influenced the roles she portrayed. She spoke about her relationship with Ingmar Bergman and how their tenuous yet intimate working relationship inspired her to do some of her greatest work. In her talk after “The Passion of Anna,” she described a moment with the director in which he asked her to read on of the reviews for the film while they were both on the road.
“The reviewer was shocked, he thought it was really really dark,” Ullmann said. “[Ingmar] stopped the car and asked me to read it, and I lied. I gave him a wonderful review, and I never thought that when I walked off the car and into the plane and went into my life — somehow I understood that that’s what a lie can be, and I am very happy I did it in that moment because he cried and was so relieved.”
In the discussion that followed “Passion of Anna,” Ullmann described what made her connect with the film’s central character. The second film Bergman shot in color, “Passion of Anna,” describes the relationships a secluded divorcee Andreas Winkelman (Max von Sydow) forms with troubled married couple Eva (Bibi Andersson) and Elis (Erland Josephson), and Anna (Liv Ullmann) –– a close friend and widow still grieving over the death of her son and husband. The film deals with the longing people have to make meaningful contact and how that desire ends up trapping both Andreas and Anna in a tense and volatile marriage based on lies.
“These people are so full of what their own worries are and their own longing for contact to be seen and to be heard.” Ullman said, “[Anna], this woman, she’s not good, but I always wanted to defend her. She believes in the truth, but she keeps lying about her marriage. It was so strange to believe and want to defend a person and then have to know I am not a good woman.”
Bergman brought life to the desperation with which people sought intimacy in prisons of their own making, and his legacy is one incredibly central to filmmaking and art itself.
Screenings will continue through Thursday, March 15 at Film Forum. Purchase tickets here.
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