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INGMAR BERGMAN: SUMMING UP A LIFE IN FILM
by Michiko Kakutani
Originally published in The New York Times Magazine (26 June 1983): 24-29, 32-33, 36-37.
It is a chilly, desolate place, this island Fårö. During the summer, tourists come here, bringing with them the laughter of children and the sun, but spring comes late to Fårö, and even in May, reminders of winter remain. A Baltic wind that twists the evergreens into the shape of bonsai trees blows in from the sea, and in the early morning hours, a damp, insidious fog settles over the beaches, draining the landscape of colour and turning everything gray.
For Ingmar Bergman, who has lived on Fårö since 1966, the island represents more than the landscape of his imagination, more than a familiar setting for his movies. It represents, he says, the one place where he feels safe and secure, the one place in the world where he actually feels at home.
At 64, Bergman possesses the face of a mandarin. Though his pale gray-green eyes can quickly turn cold and suspicious, there is a childlike brightness to his features and he is capable of expressing a warm bonhomie. These days, in fact, he seems particularly happy to play the role of benevolent paterfamilias–both in the studio and at home on the island. And this new prodigality of spirit is reflected in his latest film, Fanny and Alexander–a film that depicts the possibilities and joys of family life as well as its familiar perils. The movie, which opened earlier this month, represents "the sum total of my life as a film maker," says Bergman; he insists it is the last one he intends to make.
"Making Fanny and Alexander was such joy that I thought that feeling will never come back," he says. "I will try to explain: When I was at university many years ago, we were all in love with this extremely beautiful girl. She said no to all of us, and we didn't understand. She had had a love affair with a prince from Egypt and, for her, everything after this love affair had to be a failure. So she rejected all our proposals. I would like to say the same thing. The time with Fanny and Alexander was so wonderful that I decided it was time to stop. I have had my prince of Egypt.
"To make another picture and have it feel gray and heavy and difficult with lots of problems–that would be very sad. And I have seen many of my colleagues get older and older and more and more dusty until suddenly they are thrown out, and they cannot get money for their next picture and must go around with their hats in their hands. That is something I do not want–better to stop now when everything is perfect."
A testament to the remarkable alchemy of life and art, Bergman's movies form a kind of ongoing autobiography, and Fanny and Alexander is at once a nostalgic reinvention of the director's own childhood and a mature summation of his work. All the familiar Bergman themes and motifs are here–the humiliation of the artist, the hell and paradise of marriage, the quest for love and faith–but they are infused, this time, with a new tenderness and compassion.
"It's a big, dark, beautiful, generous family chronicle," writes The Times's film critic Vincent Canby, "which touches on many of the themes from earlier films, while introducing something that, in Bergman, might pass for serenity. It moves between the worlds of reality and imagination with the effortlessness characteristic of great fiction."
Indeed, Fanny and Alexander possesses a generosity of vision reminiscent of Shakespeare's later comedies, for in sum- ming up his life's work, Bergman seems to have achieved a measure of distance from and acceptance of his own past. "Perhaps it is an illusion, but I have the feeling I can see wider and understand more," he says. "It's like climbing a mountain. The higher you get, the more tired and breathless you become, but your view becomes much more extensive."
For those who have followed the director's career, this movie–so rich in allusions to previous works–provides a kind of index, a Rosetta stone, to his entire oeuvre. And yet the movie is also more accessible, more straightforward in narrative and form, than many of his earlier films, and it also provides the simple delights of a Proustian-flavored fairy tale of good and evil, innocence and knowledge. "The picture," comments the film critic Pauline Kael, "is an almost sustained flight of Victorian fantasy, and it may win Ingmar Bergman his greatest public acceptance."
Since establishing himself in the mid-1950's with Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, Bergman has earned critical acclaim as one of the world's foremost auteurs. Translating the tragic, introspective vision of Strindberg from the theatre to the screen, he brought a new seriousness to the form–what was "entertainment" became "art"; the "movies" became "cinema"–and he also demonstrated the medium's ability to probe philosophical issues and interior states of mind.
Though he has been attacked periodically for being willfully obscure, pretentious or irresponsibly apolitical–such films as All These Women, The Touch and The Serpent's Egg have fared particularly poorly–Bergman has managed, time after time, to win back his following with movies like Fanny and Alexander and to reinvent his reputation.
During a career that spans some four decades, he has made about 50 movies, and in those movies he has created an immediately recognizable world. Whether it is the distant allegorical realm of The Seventh Seal or the banal domestic one of Scenes From a Marriage, this world is a place where faith is tenuous; communication, elusive; and self-knowledge, illusory at best. God is either silent (as in Winter Light) or malevolent (as in The Silence), and Bergman's characters find themselves ruled, instead, by the capricious ghosts and demons of the unconscious.
More persuasively than any other director, Bergman has mapped out the geography of the individual psyche–its secret yearnings and its susceptibility to memory and desire. And in a sense, his determination to focus on existential matters rather than on larger social and political issues mirrors perfectly the nation in which he was born and lives. Neutral in two world wars and virtually free of crime and most other social ills, Sweden lacks the sort of problems that lend themselves to conventional dramatic representation; its dramas are interior ones, hidden deep beneath the bright, clean surface of social engineering.
In chronicling his own anxieties and fears, Bergman has found a parable for both Sweden's peculiar afflictions of the spirit and those of the modern world. The Sweden he has portrayed in such movies as Face to Face and Scenes From a Marriage is a country where nearly everyone owns a summer house and drives a Volvo, a country where everything, on the surface at least, is orderly and serene.
But Bergman's Sweden is not the paradise envisioned by idealistic social architects. Rather, it is a country given to atavistic rhythms and quickly shifting moods; a country of short, brilliant summers and long winters of despair; a country where even the most sophisticated city dwellers live much the way their ancestors did on farms–isolated and trapped within their homes. Here, a Calvinistic sense of fate endures, the one vestige of an age when this most secular of nations still believed. Here, money and technology have wiped out poverty and war, yet have failed to lower the suicide rate or alleviate despair. Here, the meliorative ideal founders on the rock of human nature.
Bergman and Ingrid, his wife of 12 years, live far from the modern planned communities of suburban Sweden, far from the conveniences of mass transportation.
To get to Fårö, one must first fly from Stockholm to Visby, an ancient walled city of medieval churches and ruined choirs. From Visby, there is an hour's drive across Gotland–a rocky island whose flat horizon is broken only by the steeples of abandoned churches, as numerous as telephone poles, stretching to the ocean. A ferry ride across a cold, windy bay follows, and then another drive across the sparsely populated island of Fårö itself, past ramshackle farmhouses and fishermen's shacks, through sheep pastures and pine groves to the director's isolated house -a low frame structure that stands perched like a lighthouse on the very edge of the sea.
The same colour as the shale stones that cover the beach, the house seems almost a part of the landscape–gray, stark and inhospitable. Inside, though, the wall-to-wall carpeting and sleek Scandinavian modern furniture lend a sense of happy, if somewhat contrived, normalcy and cheer. There are crayon drawings by Bergman's grandchildren on the study wall, and stacks of family photo albums on the table. The prevailing impression is that of a pleasant, middleclass model home; only the room of screening equipment and an opulent television set hint that the house belongs to a wealthy movie director.
Dressed in an old flannel shirt, a worn cardigan and a little red woollen ski hat, Bergman, at first glance, might be one of the island's farmers. Alternately animated and introspective, he speaks English slowly, almost cautiously, but becomes enthusiastic when it comes to showing a visitor around his grounds. He prepares his own lunch with aplomb, and drives his green Volvo station wagon along Fårö's narrow gravel roads with careful expertise.
Still, there is a calculated quality to his casualness. Although he says he hates meeting people he doesn't know, he immediately throws an arm over the shoulders of a visiting stranger, and he punctuates his conversation with declarations of his sincerity and good will. One has the sense that this is learned behaviour of sorts–the gestures of a lonely and self-preoccupied man who wants very much to be liked, a man who has worked with actors all his life and who is keenly aware of the masks we put on in public life.
Beneath the bluff exterior, in fact, lies a wealth of contradictions. Here is a self-professed agnostic who is deeply superstitious; a puritan who has married five times and carried on highly publicized liaisons with his leading ladies; a stickler for details–he has been known to send a telegram to change an appointment by 10 minutes–who spends hours at a time daydreaming.
"I am very much aware of my own double self," Bergman says. "The well-known one is very under control; everything is planned and very secure. The unknown one can be very unpleasant. I think this side is responsible for all the creative work–he is in touch with the child. He is not rational, he is impulsive and extremely emotional. Perhaps it is not even a 'he,' but a 'she.'"
In his movies, Bergman has frequently taken this double self–the intuitive, feminine side and the masculine, analytic one -and split it into two characters: the worldly squire and the ascetic knight in The Seventh Seal, the artist Vogler and his adversary Vergerus in The Magician, the silent actress and the gregarious nurse in Persona.
In the case of Fanny and Alexander, he has taken the mirror of his personality and broken it into shards, each one reflecting a different facet of his character: the grandmother, "an old professional, who has lived a lot and is very surprised, though without bitterness, to find that suddenly she is old"; Isak Jacobi, the old Jewish antiques dealer who possesses the powers of magic; Gustav Adolf, the loud, boisterous uncle who loves the company of women; the dour bishop, who tries to bend everyone to his will; the mother, Emilie, who as an actress "wears a thousand masks," and, of course, the movie's 10-year-old hero–dreamy, secretive Alexander.
In addition to ransacking his own life for ideas and information, Bergman mines the lives of his colleagues and friends. Just as many of his artist heroes display certain parasitical tendencies–the novelist in Through a Glass Darkly, for instance, watches his daughter's nervous breakdown with clinical fascination–he, too, is a voyeur, constantly watching others and taking mental notes.
Although he declines to talk about his own publicized relationships with women, Bergman himself often plays the part of reporter. Introduced to a stranger, he asks all manner of personal questions–a tactic that reflects both defensiveness and genuine curiosity–and he evidently does the same with friends. "If I would tell him I have a cancer and was going to die, he would be extremely sorry, but also extremely curious," says Harry Schein, the former director of the Swedish Film Institute and one of Bergman's confidants. "He's interested in the unhappiness of his friends. He dwells on it–he can get material. We often have long phone calls, and if he asks, 'How are you?' and I say, 'Fine,' he would be extremely disappointed. A human being in pain–he can learn much more."
Indeed, Bergman is highly dependent on his observations of others to give him a sense of ordinary life. Although the theatre (which demands the interpretation of another writer's work) and the island Fårö (which turns the world-famous director into just another resident) help reduce his myopia, one suspects that he still shares, with many of his characters, a difficulty in reaching outside himself.
Preoccupied with his own emotions, he is constantly annotating his own conversation–"I know this sounds naive," he will say, or, "I'm trying to be honest"–and from time to time, he will issue public statements about his films, as though he feared being misunderstood. There are open letters to his cast, subsequently published on op-ed pages, and there are published versions of his scripts, complete with detailed descriptions of characters and motivation. Bergman says he has never been in analysis, but he employs the language of psychiatry with ease, and like others employed in the business of self-dissection, he likes to refer to himself in the third person, as "Ingmar."
Bergman has carefully nurtured his intuition, protecting it like a rare plant from the harsh light and noise of the outside world, and the private realm he inhabits resembles the one so often depicted in his movies–a dreamlike place, where fantasy and reality, the conscious and unconscious, overlap and merge.
"It's difficult to explain," he says, "but the other morning I woke up here on the island and came into my study. I was sitting here looking out at the sea, and suddenly I had a very strong feeling that on my left side was my mother. I knew she was there. I was not dreaming. It was just the feeling that she was here, communicating with me. And then the sun came up, and after 10 minutes or 12 minutes, this feeling went away."
Heightened by the intensely personal nature of his movies, Bergman's self-absorption is the consequence of a strangely hermetic life. As a child, brought up by strict Lutheran parents, he felt lonely and inept at communicating with his peers; and since the age of 20, he has lived almost entirely within the self-enclosed world of the theatre and film studio.
"My only talent," says a character in Fanny and Alexander, echoing the director's own point of view, "is that I love this little world inside the thick walls of this playhouse....Outside is the big world, and sometimes the little world succeeds for a moment in reflecting the big world, so that we understand it better. Or is it perhaps that we give the people who come here the chance of forgetting for a while...the harsh world outside. Our theatre is a small room of orderliness, routine, conscientiousness and love."
No doubt the decision to live within this little world, safe from the confusions of history, was partly a conscious one–the result of Bergman's one youthful, and devastating, step into politics. Sent abroad for the first time at the age of 16–as an exchange student–he lived with a clergyman's family in Germany. The year was 1934, and he soon found himself swept up in the country's burgeoning enthusiasm for Hitler. He attended a Nazi rally in Weimar and listened to the clergyman deliver sermons based on Mein Kampf. "We were absolute virgins politically and we found it marvellous," he recalls now. "We were infected." By the time he returned home to Sweden, he says he had become a "little pro-German fanatic."
Years later, when he saw pictures of the concentration camps, he felt enormous guilt and shame. "I understood I had made a great mistake," he says, "and since then political thinking has scared me to death." For years, he did not read political books or editorials, and he declined to vote. Instead, he told himself that self-knowledge was the most one could hope for, that anything more smacked of hubris and pretension.
It was a position similar to that expressed by Emilie in Fanny and Alexander. "All I bother about is myself," she says. "I don't bother about reality either. It is colourless and uninteresting; it doesn't concern me. Wars and revolutions and epidemics and poverty and injustices and volcanic eruptions mean nothing to me unless in one way or another they affect the part I am just playing."
The two Bergman movies that do venture, albeit tentatively, into the realm of politics are actually rooted in his guilt about the war. Set in 1923, The Serpent's Egg attempts to examine the seeds of the Nazi evil, and Shame, Bergman has said, originated in a question he once asked himself–"How would I have behaved during the Nazi period if Sweden had been occupied and if I'd held some position of responsibility or been connected with some institution?"
It is the politics of relationships and the sociology of the psyche that is
really Bergman's concern. Marriage and the perils of domestic life (Thirst,
Scenes From a Marriage,
From the Life of the Marionettes, Fanny and Alexander);
the deceptions of love (Summer With Monika,
Smiles of a Summer Night); the artist and his persecution by society (The Magician,
Sawdust and Tinsel, the
Hour of the Wolf trilogy); the difficulties of faith (The Seventh Seal,
Winter Light) and the psychological complexities of the soul (Persona,
Cries and Whispers)–these are the preoccupations that animate his work and they all are rooted in intensely personal concerns, in the director's own nightmares and dreams.
Most of his films, Bergman has said, have grown "like a snowball" out of some small flake of experience or memory. He has found that film making has a therapeutic effect and, in many cases, has subjected a particular obsession to this process of analysis and catharsis. "I have been working all the time," he says, "and it's like a flood going through the landscape of your soul. It's good because it takes away a lot. It's cleansing. If I hadn't been at work all the time, I would have been a lunatic."
The Seventh Seal, which portrayed a medieval knight's confrontation with death in a plague-ridden land, helped him overcome his own fear of dying.
Wild Strawberries, which depicted an aging man's reassessment of his barren existence, was made "as a rundown of my earlier life, a searching final test."
Face to Face, which chronicled a successful woman's descent into madness, helped him give his own Angst "a name and address. In this way it (was) deprived of its nimbus and alarm." And Fanny and Alexander has helped him come to terms with the terrors and joys of his own childhood.
For Bergman, that childhood remains curiously palpable and accessible. He thinks of himself as something of a child, and whenever he goes to the studio, he has the sense that he is a little boy again–the same little boy who, after breakfast, would go upstairs to his room, take out his toy theatre and put on Strindberg plays.
"I have maintained open channels with my childhood," he says. "I think it may be that way with many artists. Sometimes in the night, when I am on the limit between sleeping and being awake, I can just go through a door into my childhood and everything is as it was–with lights, smells, sounds and people....I remember the silent street where my grandmother lived, the sudden aggressivity of the grown-up world, the terror of the unknown and the fear from the tension between my father and mother."
His childhood, Bergman has said, shaped his imagination and, for him, the past is always present. The world of the church that he grew up in as the son of a minister imprinted his mind with a religious vocabulary and peopled it with images of demons and saints. And his relationship with his parents shaped his view of the sexes with Freudian clarity and force.
While he feared his stern, authoritarian father, he clearly adored his mother ("I was in love with her," he says. "I knew what she liked and disliked and I used to try to find ways to win her love"), and to this day he believes that "women are more intuitive than men–they have their emotional life more intact."
It is an attitude reflected in his films: The female characters are usually endowed with strength, patience and an enduring innate wisdom, while the men tend to be selfish, stupid or somehow incomplete–either self-indulgent artists, eager to sacrifice their loved ones on the altar of their art, or stony intellectuals, intolerant of others' frailties and fears.
Certainly this is true of the men and women in Fanny and Alexander. The male characters are all buffoons of sorts: one uncle is a lecher; another, a self-pitying failure, and the stepfather is another of Bergman's obnoxious moralizers, determined to impose his values on everyone else. Most of the women, on the other hand–from the gracious grandmother to the long-suffering mother–represent a panoply of virtues. Sensual, resilient and open to their emotions, they love and humour their men, combining in their passion the devotion of a mother and a mistress.
In Fanny and Alexander, Bergman has drawn on memories of his grandmother's house, and he has turned the world of his childhood into a fairy tale set at the turn of the century. The early scenes portray, with almost Dickensian festivity, the daily life of a bourgeois family named Ekdahl who run a theatre in a small Swedish town. When their father dies, however, Alexander and his sister, Fanny, find their happy little world shattered from within: Their mother remarries, and her new husband, the bishop, institutes an icy, puritanical regime.
Alexander, clearly, is a portrait of the artist as a young boy. Like Alexander, Bergman used to spend hours playing with a magic lantern; like Alexander, he had difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and truth; and like Alexander, he was punished for this "lying." The scene of humiliation in which the bishop whips Alexander and locks him in a closet was based on the director's own experience, and similar confrontations between a young hero and a father figure, between an overly sensitive artist and an unfeeling intellectual, surface again and again in his work.
That repressive atmosphere at home endowed Bergman with both a need to communicate with others and a heightened awareness of how people use power to manipulate one another–emotions that eventually led him to work in theatre and film.
"I think I have just one obsession -to touch other human beings," he says. "That desire for contact, I think, was the reason why I came to this profession, because as a child I was very shy and very lonely and very afraid of other people. Of course, it was not only this very beautiful reason, but it was also a longing for power, for manipulating other people. I think that's a disease every director has–a kind of professional illness."
According to his colleagues, that desire to manipulate people often extends beyond the studio. "With his friends, with his actors, he plays the authority figure," observes Jörn Donner, the producer of
Fanny and Alexander. "In a sense, he has become the father he hated. He can become very jealous, say, if one of the actors in his film works in the
theatre in the evening. And he tries to influence their professional life. He says, 'You should do that, you should not do this.' In Sweden, he has enormous power–he has made careers and indirectly probably destroyed them–and so people tend to listen."
Insecure and suspicious, Bergman not only values control over others, but over his own life as well. He says that as a young man who already had had three marriages and five children, he realized his "life was a terrible flop," and he decided, then and there, that "if I cannot be perfect in my life, I will be perfect in my profession."
"You can't direct reality," he says, "and that sometimes makes me very insecure and scared. But when you direct a picture, you can decide everything. You can do everything you want, you can control every little detail. It's always handmade."
Acutely aware that this control afforded by art is illusory, Bergman has portrayed the artist in such movies as The Magician and the Hour of the Wolf trilogy as both charlatan and saint: someone guilty of lies and deceit, but also capable of performing miracles–"the one impossible trick" of making a ball stand still in the air. In
Persona, the actress Elisabet Vogler chooses to become mute, arguing that her art has no meaning; and Bergman himself believes that the narrative order provided by art is really a placebo taken in lieu of anything better.
For Bergman, faith, like art, offers the consolations of order and redemption, and in a sense, his entire body of work is animated by religious questions. The pastor's son is fond of quoting O'Neill's dictum that all great art deals with man's relation to God; and all his movies are preoccupied with man's spiritual dilemma, his inability to reconcile the importunate demands of the flesh with the immortal longings of the soul. Such titles as The Seventh Seal and
Face to Face come from biblical quotations, and the movies themselves are filled with similar allusions. In conversation, the director frequently uses words like "grace" and "salvation," and he remains fascinated by the human capacity for "unmotivated cruelty"–a kind of original sin that cannot be explained by reason.
With Winter Light, made in 1963, however, a fundamental change occurs. While such earlier films as The Seventh Seal and
The Virgin Spring were animated by an anguished search for belief, Winter Light–which depicts a minister's own loss of faith–implies that whatever answers there are to be found are to be found here on earth.
The philosophical shift, Bergman explains, came during a short hospital stay. Coming out of the anesthesia, he realized he was no longer scared of death, and that the question of God had suddenly disappeared. Since then, his movies have all articulated a wary humanism in which human love holds the one promise of salvation.
In most cases, though, that ideal love eludes Bergman's characters. Instead, love turns out to be a dangerous emotion that either reinforces their loneliness or brings contagion with another's neuroses. It is as though Bergman, in accepting a world bereft of God–a world in which human beings are responsible for everything–had also resigned himself to a kind of purgatory on earth. Only recently, with such films as
The Magic Flute and now, Fanny and Alexander, does he seem to have embraced the possibility of communion, the possibility of human happiness here on a Godforsaken earth.
"When Ingmar was younger, there was a bitterness to his films," says Harry Schein. "With Fanny and Alexander, there's a greater sense of harmony. I think Ingmar has it personally as well. In many ways, I feel he still lives a very difficult life–he talks of Angst, of that anxiety where you wake up in the middle of the night–but superficially he seems more harmonic. On the surface, he is nice and charming and almost civilized." Certainly, a change in demeanor and in style of life has gradually occurred. The Bergman of the 1950's, who was establishing himself as an auteur, was an angry young man, an inventor of bohemian poses. Having repudiated the bourgeois values of his parents–he left home, after coming to blows with his father–the director reveled in the roles of novice existentialist and temperamental artist. He read Sartre and Camus and took to signing his letters with the insignia of a little devil. He appeared at rehearsals and filming sessions wearing a beret and scruffy beard, and his cast became accustomed to his fits of melancholy temper: He tore telephones out of walls and on one occasion threw a chair through a studio's glass control booth.
"I was very cruel to actors and to other people," says Bergman now. "I think I was a very, very unpleasant young man. If I met the young Ingmar today, I think I would say, 'You are very talented and I will see if I can help you, but I don't think I want anything else to do with you.' I don't say I'm pleasant now, but I think I changed slowly in my 50's. At least I hope I've changed."
The change, it seems, came partly as an act of self-preservation. As a young man, Bergman notes, "I was a package of emotions on two legs–my life was completely chaotic." Since then, observes Jörn Donner, "Ingmar has been trying to fight the bohemianism in himself by leading a well-ordered life. When you think you are a bohemian or a lazy person, you have to fight that and impose a discipline–it's a little puritanical. He is very much the bourgeois today–he likes to see Ingrid and himself as the proprietors of a small French restaurant–you can't get more bourgeois than that."
His wife, Ingrid–a pleasant, kind-faced woman who bears, Bergman acknowledges, a remarkable resemblance to his own mother–has helped him establish cordial relations with his eight children from previous marriages and liaisons, and every July the children and four grandchildren come to Fårö to celebrate the director's birthday.
Bergman's daily schedule seems equally well ordered, if not a bit fanatical in its precision. He gets up every morning at 8 and writes from 9 until noon. Lunch–which for the last 15 years or so has consisted of berries and sour milk–is followed by two more hours of work and a nap at 3. Before dinner, he takes a walk and after dinner watches television–he is especially fond of
Dallas–or a movie from his large 16-millimeter collection.
Like Jenny Isaksson, the psychiatrist in Face to Face who suffers a nervous breakdown, Bergman has cultivated neatness and efficiency as a means of containing his anxieties and fears. The surface calm bears a disturbing resemblance to that of Sweden's; beneath it, he says, he remains "extremely neurotic." "Ingmar, at the slightest provocation, will produce a nervous breakdown," says his agent, Paul Kohner. "He has a delicate disposition."
Bergman will always be one of those people who closes doors behind him, who insists on an aisle seat in movie theatres. He will always knock wood when things are going well, and he will always suffer from a delicate stomach and bad dreams. "I have a lot of tics and phobias," he says. "I hate to travel. I hate to go to festivals. I hate it when somebody goes close behind me. I'm scared of the darkness. I hate open doors. It has to do with some primitive feeling of insecurity. I can't control it, but I know where my phobias are and how they work."
Although he maintains that he is unneurotic about his profession ("I look at my pictures and stage productions as furniture, as something for people to use," he says. "I can say, 'This chair is good; this one is very bad'"), Bergman is, nonetheless, compulsive about his work, and he acknowledges that he has frequently used it as a way of escape.
"When I was younger, it was a way of avoiding things," he says. "I would say, 'I have no time now to discuss it.' Or, 'When the picture is concluded, then I will think it over.' Or, 'I will cry when I have had my last shooting day.' Always when a picture opened, I was at work on the next picture, so when something was unsuccessful or a flop, I just had no time to think about it."
Even if Fanny and Alexander is his last feature film, Bergman hardly plans to abandon his hectic schedule. He will continue to work for television–the medium, after all, that originally produced
Scenes From a Marriage" and Face to Face. His next television project has already been shot and will air next year on Swedish television. Titled
After the Rehearsal, it involves a dialogue between two actresses and an aging director, who is clearly Bergman himself.
Since the beginning, alongside his more public career in film, Bergman has maintained another one in the theatre, and he will continue to stage operas and plays. He has adapted Molière's
School for Wives for television, and plans to stage
King Lear for Stockholm's Royal Dramatic Theatre.
It was during a rehearsal of Strindberg's Dance of Death at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in 1976 that Bergman was arrested, in a highly publicized incident, for tax evasion. The charges were later dropped–the Swedish Government subsequently issued a formal apology–but the director exiled himself from Sweden and moved to Munich.
"It was sad when we went away," he says. "I said to Ingrid, 'There are only two solutions or possibilities. It will kill me or stimulate me.' Looking back now, I think it was, in a way, a very stimulating and fantastic experience." At the time, though, the experience caused Bergman enormous trauma, leading to a nervous breakdown. It not only seemed a fulfillment of all his worst fears of humiliation, but it also meant leaving the country he loved.
"I am so 100 percent Swedish," he explains. "Someone has said a Swede is like a bottle of ketchup–nothing and nothing and then all at once–splat. I think I'm a little like that. And I think I'm Swedish because I like to live here on this island. You can't imagine the loneliness and isolation in this country. In that way, I'm very Swedish–I don't dislike to be alone. Before I married Ingrid, I lived in this house for 16 months. An old woman came three hours a day at 4 and made dinner for me and she cleaned up and at 7 she went away. And that was the only company I had. I lived like that week after week, month after month, and in a way I liked it very much."
Although he had made a pleasant enough life for himself in Munich, Bergman desperately missed his home on Fårö, and one summer day in 1977, he remembered how the lilacs in his garden used to explode into blossom during that one week in June. That evening, he and his wife took a plane to Stockholm. They took another plane to Visby, then drove a car back to their house on Fårö. "The night was clear," he recalls. "And there was no darkness, and we got here at midnight and were sitting outside the old house, looking and smelling the flowers. The next day we went back to Munich. That in a way is very strange, but somehow very Swedish."
Bergman is spending his summers again on Fårö, and after fulfilling some theatre commitments in Munich, he says he will return to Sweden for good. "For a long time, I didn't want to come home," he says, "but now in a few years I think I will return. I think it's time for Ingmar to go home."
Michiko Kakutani, a member of The New York Times' staff, writes on cultural subjects.
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