Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman was 89 when he died (Picture: Archive Photos/Getty Images)
You mean, ‘who was?’. One of the most influential filmmakers of all time, Bergman was born in 1918 and died in 2007.
A prolific Swedish auteur, Bergman directed more than 60 films, won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Picture three times (The Virgin Spring, Through A Glass Darkly, Fanny And Alexander) and was the first to be awarded the ultimate ‘Palme des Palmes’ accolade at the Cannes Film Festival (recently just awarded to Tom Cruise – one senses Bergman would be unimpressed).
As the new film Bergman Island is out on Friday in cinemas, from his childhood, to work and what inspired him, here is a run down of what we know about the man behind the camera.
What was he like?
Classic difficult genius – visionary, self-obsessed, highly strung, capricious, stubborn and, by his own admission, aggressive.
Bergman’s most famous films
The Seventh Seal (1957). A black and white morality fable in which a medieval knight (Max von Sydow) plays a game of chess with Death (Bengt Ekerot).
A masterpiece about ‘God’s silence’, it’s an archetypal Bergman scenario: a hero reflects on his life and attempts to find salvation in human connection. It’s been referenced in everything from Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey and The Simpsons to Iron Maiden.
Bergman grew up in the grounds of a hospital where his father was a strict Lutheran Chaplain. As a boy he used to help the gardener carry the corpses. His mother was distant and forbidding.
‘I was quite sure I had been an unwanted child, growing out of a cold womb’, he wrote in Images, My Life In Film (1990). Abandoned children are everywhere in his films, as are grown-ups: abandoned by God and by unfaithful partners.
Bergman was married five times, fathered nine children and had innumerable mistresses, frequently his own actresses.
Ingmar had a peculiar upbringing (Picture: AFP/AFP via Getty Images)
He went on to become a legend (Picture: Li Erben/Sygma via Getty Images)
Which Bergman films should I watch?
Wild Strawberries (also 1957), a road trip through the Swedish countryside featuring one of his muses/ mistresses, Bibi Andersson, is now seen as the most accessible and cheery of his films.
Though a contemporary New York Times review said: ‘If any of you thought you had trouble understanding what Ingmar Bergman was trying to convey in his beautifully poetic and allegorical Swedish film The Seventh Seal wait until you see his Wild Strawberries.
This one is so thoroughly mystifying that we wonder whether Mr Bergman himself knew what he was trying to say.’
How to sound clever when talking about Bergman
Drop in his use of ‘frontality’ i.e. close-ups on faces against empty, blank or minimal backgrounds. Point out his recurrent mirror motif: the way we try to see our most essential selves.
If in doubt, declare ‘Bergman’s work is about nothing more than the essential loneliness of the human condition’ and look broodingly out of a window.
Who has Bergman influenced?
More like who hasn’t he influenced? As well as Bergman Island director Mia Hansen-Løve, the likes of Tim Burton, Wes Anderson, Federico Fellini, Ridley Scott, Richard Ayoade, Park Chan Wook, Woody Allen, Claire Denis, Lars von Trier, Takeshi Kitano, David Lynch, Stanley Kubrick and loads more acknowledge an artistic debt.
There are even echoes of Bergman’s Persona (1966) in the new Marvel TV series, Moon Knight.