Bergman Retrospective Concludes at Film Forum


By Ryan Di Corpo

Ullmann takes part on March 2 in a discussion conducted by Goldstein at the Film Forum (Ryan Di Corpo/The Fordham Ram).

Ingmar Bergman did not like awards, at least not for his films.

Upon his 1960 Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay, the lionized filmmaker and professional genius informed the Academy that it was a “humiliating institution” and that he wished to return his “CERTIFICATE OF NOMINATION.”

He maintained similar sentiments for the Cannes Film Festival, which he referred to as “the place of […] meat market and mental humiliation.”

Based on these less-than warm feelings regarding the public celebration of his work, Bergman, who died in 2007, may not have immediately given his imprimatur to the Film Forum’s recent retrospective of his films.

The Forum, a noted nonprofit art-house cinema opened in 1970 in Lower Manhattan, recently marked the centennial of Bergman’s birth with “the largest jubilee of a single filmmaker,” according to the Swedish Film Institute. Organized by Film Forum’s Director of Repertory Programming Bruce Goldstein, the 47-film series began on Feb. 7 and concluded this past Thursday on March 15.

Despite Bergman’s hesitation towards the honoring of his films, the Forum’s series was utterly, unavoidably necessary. For many, Bergman is Swedish cinema.

Once referred to by Roger Ebert as “probably the greatest living filmmaker,” Bergman’s singular vision, theological investigations, philosophical musings and sheer mastery of the craft of filmmaking have left an indelible mark on the art of the cinema.

Yet, Bergman is not easy. Writing for The New Yorker, film critic Anthony Lane states that Bergman “dreamed, drew, pondered, probed, and agonized on film.” His films regularly address issues of physical illness, death, psychological torment, spiritual doubt and identity crises. Such challenging subject matter will no doubt drive away casual moviegoers and even more committed cinephiles from subjecting themselves to Bergman’s art.

However, his films repay the viewer not only intellectually but also emotionally and spiritually. These films do not simply focus on abstract concepts but comment on these concepts through the examination of people’s relationships with themselves, with others, and with God — whom Bergman endlessly interrogates. Richard Brody, also writing for The New Yorker, finds the relationships in Bergman’s films to be “fraught with destructive passion.”

While greatly respected by other directors — such as Andrei Tarkovsky and Stanley Kubrick —, critics, and artistic intellectuals, Bergman’s influence does not exist in some exclusive niche outside of mainstream culture. Films such as Wild Strawberries, The Seventh Seal, Persona, Cries and Whispers and Fanny and Alexander continued to be internationally discussed, debated, and parodied decades after their original release. Even The Simpsons paid homage to Bergman in its naming of a Swedish bar “Inga-Bar Beerman’s.”

According to the Criterion Collection, 40 of the 47 films screened at the Bergman retrospective had been newly restored.  The series aimed not only to showcase the director’s well-regarded masterpieces, but also to shine a light on rarely-screen gems, such as The Magician and Shame.

In addition to a considerable number of screening events, the Forum also hosted frequent Bergman actress Liv Ullmann following screenings of Shame and The Passion of Anna on March 2 and 3, respectively. Ullmann, a former romantic partner to Bergman, spoke for about one hour on March 2 to a rapt theatre regarding her career and her personal and professional interactions with Bergman.

The wild, swarming enthusiasm of the crowd in the Film Forum lobby upon Ullmann’s entrance provided a good example of how not only Ullmann’s work with Bergman, but also the films themselves, remain relevant and awe-inspiring. This reporter has seen many crowds clamor at a chance to obtain a celebrity’s signature, but has seen only once someone clamor for a signed copy of Autumn Sonata, Bergman’s 1978 film detailing the meeting between a well-regarded classical pianist and her estranged daughter.

In his article regarding the opening of the Forum’s Bergman retrospective, Anthony Lane suggested that to neglect attending at least part of the film series would be not just “a wasted opportunity,” but “a dereliction.”

Yet, for those who missed out on the centennial celebration: never fear. Many of Bergman’s films are widely available in high-quality formats. Watch them: it’s your duty.