The best of Ingmar Bergman

A man of the theater as much if not more than of the cinema, Ingmar Bergman was once shorthand for Foreign Film. The three-count’em-three nominations for Best Director — only Fellini surpassed him as a director of non-English films — were the result, not the consequence. By the early sixties audiences who pretended to know what the hell was happening onscreen and whose college-aged children wrote essays on The Seventh Seal and The Silence thought inscrutability and a starkness as forbidding as an interrogation room were the ultimate in chic. So many of his dramas have talky expositive bits (Wild Strawberries, Cries and Whispers) that made the cut anyway because Bergman’s sense of pace, crispness, and supple work with what amounted to a repertory company were terrific anyway.

I’m not as high on Persona as most people; often the editing and the magnificent work of Sven Nykvist result in riveting mishmashes of barely swallowed political commentary and a morning on the loo’s acquaintance with Freud (Hour of the Wolf also and The Silence make for grim case studies). I direct them instead to the following year’s Shame, in which Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow cling to their marriage as their country plunges into chaos. I’d say it’s one of the great cinematic depictions of war and remembrance; there’s nothing like it in his filmography. On the other hand, Smiles of a Summer Night has the wit and grace of classic Lubitsch; the man could write a bon mot when called to. The secrets and lies that glue families together was his great subject, often with unintended results — who doesn’t feel more sorry for concert pianist mama/fraud Ingrid Bergman than for daughter/whiner Ullmann in Autumn Sonata? Why wasn’t a movie made about Fanny and Alexander’s grandmother, and what the hell happened to Fanny anyway? She disappears from the picture.

I’ve listed these films in the order I’d most want to revisit, and, thanks to upcoming art house revivals, I will. Most of the early pictures have gotten Criterion releases, and they are well worth a look; because he’s still experimenting with an approach, they feel less weighted by history.

1. Shame
2. Smiles of a Summer Night
3. The Virgin Spring
4. Wild Strawberries
5. Fanny and Alexander
6. Summer with Monika
7. The Magic Flute
8. Through a Glass Darkly
9. Summer Interlude
10. The Seventh Seal
11. Persona
12. Cries and Whispers
13. Winter Light
14. Summer with Monika
15. Sawdust and Tinsel
16. Scenes from a Marriage
17. The Silence
18. The Best Intentions (written by)
19. The Passion of Anna
20. The Magic Flute

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