Ingmar Bergman (1918–2007)
My love of cinema is inextricably linked with my love of Bergman. Had it not been for that beguiling of image of Death and a medieval knight playing a game of chess, then I may never have taken the time to watch The Seventh Seal (1957) – and had I not watched the first of his many masterpieces, then I would perhaps still be unaware of the ability of film to function as art.
Film is a huge part of my life and thus, so is Bergman. An absolute giant of the arthouse cinema that he helped popularise from the 1950s to the 1970s, recent years saw his stock diminish amongst critics’ circles as his work became seen as too theatrical, too dated. Perhaps his death will provoke an overdue reassessment of his unrivalled oeuvre?
What continues to set Bergman apart from the legions of admirers and imitators is the fact that his cinema is unique . The man lived and breathed through his films, pouring his own doubts and concerns into his work. He thereby created a distinct cinematic language that was entirely personal to him, whilst the films themselves plumbed depths of feeling that no one else would even dare to conceive.
The stereotype of the gloomy Swede was perpetuated by Bergman, but those who relegate his work to types have evidently yet to experience the complexity of his brand of darkness. Only after one has undertaken the breathtaking emotional rollercoaster of a film like Cries and Whispers (1972) can one begin to grasp why his followers are so staunch in their dedication. Bergman was a filmmaker who dared to explore and expose the most horrific aspects of our mental anguish, and who at the same time had a propensity for successfully tackling the grandest of moral and spiritual questions. The fact that his work continues to strike such a resonant chord is a testament to the lasting relevance of his themes. And as for the doom-and-gloom aspect, it’s telling that even the arduous Cries is a film that concludes with a positively life-affirming note – something that, contrary to public perception, is a hallmark of Bergman’s cinema: take a look at Wild Strawberries (1957) or Fanny and Alexander (1982) for further proof.
For all his theatrical roots, Bergman was also a remarkable visual stylist. From the lush expressionistic devices he employed in The Seventh Seal or Wild Strawberries , through the bleak austerity of his “Faith Trilogy”, to the magnificent chamber dramas of Cries and Whispers and Fanny and Alexander – his films were consistently striking upon the eye. Never was this more the case than in his greatest work, Persona (1966) – a film so radical in its innovative use of the film form that it almost makes Godard and Welles look like mice in comparison.
Bergman, for me and so many others, was the embodiment of what cinema could achieve. His films demand our utmost attention, but the voyages of empathy, understanding and even self-discovery that they provoke as a result serve as apt rewards. Losing Ingmar is a tremendous blow to the world of film, in spite of his enviable and lengthy career. It’s a metaphorical loss of that aforementioned embodiment – Bergman’s presence, even if silent, was at least a reassurance that the sanctity of cinema was still safe, still guarded. Without him, it’s as if the world of film seems more vulnerable, more susceptible to the homogeneity, to a loss of feeling that he so ardently worked to establish.
Thankfully, Bergman left us with a legacy that can’t be erased: his films. Amidst all the mourning, it’s those brilliant accomplishments that we should look towards. Certainly, it’s what I’ll be turning to to remind myself that all is not lost, that art can and will survive. For The Seventh Seal, for Cries and Whispers , for Wild Strawberries , for Fanny and Alexander , for Persona and for so many others I will be in eternal gratitude to Mr. Bergman.
So yeah: Thank You, Ingmar. R.I.P.