The Man in Bergman: A New German Cinema Pioneer’s Search for the Heart and Soul of Ingmar Bergman’s Legacy

In the early 1960s, I went to Paris and had no thoughts of cinema at all.

The New German Wave was not yet born, but the Nouvelle Vague Française was already alive and my Parisian friends were full of enthusiasm about it. They pushed me to go with them to the cinema, and it was there where I saw Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. The film was like a shock—both a total surprise and an initiation for me. From then on I dreamed about becoming a moviemaker, but for a woman of that time the danger was that that dream could stay a dream for a lifetime. I had to wait until 1977 to get the chance to make my first film, after being an actress for several years.

Bergman was still an inspiration then, even if I was living in a more political environment and did a lot of so-called “political” films. But when you look at those films carefully, you’ll always find a lot of Bergman. While I didn’t try to imitate him, he became an unconscious influence on my work. Otherwise I doubt he would have chosen my film Marianne and Juliane when asked by the Göteborg Film Festival to provide a list of the 10 most important films in his life.

Making my latest film Searching for Ingmar Bergman is like a gesture of gratitude to my master; I’m aware that I’m still a pupil in front of him. Initially I was hesitant to accept my producers’ offer to make the film because I felt that everything there was to say, write, and film about Bergman’s work has already been said, written, and filmed. That’s ultimately why I choose to insert myself into the work—my first documentary—as I embarked on a voyage to learn what other moviemakers and collaborators remember about Bergman, and to see if they’re still as in love with him as much as I am.

Making Searching for Ingmar Bergman, I discovered Bergman the man, the father, the husband—a human being of such complexity of shadows and light, doubts and anxieties, that sometimes I felt not only admiration for him, but deep empathy.

Writer-director Margarethe von Trotta in a scene from her documentary Searching For Ingmar Bergman. Photograph by Börres Weiffenbach

Bergman had a lot of phobias, which he called his demons. There were demons of punctuality, demons of rage, demons of fearing insects, and so on. He was also afraid of becoming ill. But he was humorous enough to speak about these demons with a big laugh, and he embraced and touched every- body on the sets of his films to make them feel a solidarity with him.

One of my points of focus on Bergman’s life in the film is his time spent in Munich after he left Sweden due to his terrible humiliation over disputes with Swedish tax authorities. In a speech, he said, “I cannot live or work in a country which takes away my honor.” He said this even though he loved Sweden and especially his isle of Fårö, where he shot several films. Looking at the two films he made in Munich, The Serpent’s Egg and From the Life of the Marionettes, you can understand his depression, the brutal darkness he felt during that part of his life.

Bergman is of course not the only artist who ever suffered from psychiatric ailments, but he is one of the few who accepted it and spoke about it. His films are all confessional. As François Truffaut once said, “Bergman is the most autobiographical filmmaker I know.” He was sincere. He had both the capacity and the generosity to reveal all of his weaknesses. Yes, he put them in his films, but he also told us about them. That is exceptional.

Making this film was an opportunity to go through Ingmar’s films again and to question myself, my ways, and my life as a moviemaker. My hope is that by encouraging people to revisit Bergman’s filmography as I did, my film will inspire them to go in search of Bergman the man, too. MM

Searching For Ingmar Bergman opens in theaters November 2, 2018, courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories. Featured Image: Ingmar Bergman with his wife, Käbi Laretei, and their son, Daniel. Quad Cinema’s retrospective on the films of Margarethe von Trotta, The Political Is Personal, runs November 2-8, 2018 in New York City. This article appears in MovieMaker’s 2019 Complete Guide to Making Movies, on stands November 6, 2018.

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