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In the Frame of Bergman

"Bergman believed in one important thing which is that the stories should be exclusively written for films and not adapting to a novel or a short story for filming. Bergman wrote the stories for almost all his films by himself."

V N Jatla : September 20, 2007

World cinema lost one of the legendary film makers Ingmar Bergman from Sweden on 30th July 2007 who passed away at the age of 89 years. He was a milestone in the world cinema and was an institution by himself. Every new generation filmmaker has to study his films for further experiments with the media. No student of cinema can bypass his films!!

Bergman made 60 films in his life time starting from 1945 to 1982. The CRISIS 1945 was his maiden film and his last film was FANNY AND ALEXANDER. In 1956 Bergman won International acclaim, when his film SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT was shown at most prestigious CANNES film festival in France. It is after ‘Fanny and Alexander’ Bergman stopped making films from 2003. But continued till his death writing scripts and making TV serials. Fanny and Alexander won OSCAR for best foreign language film. Bergman won OSCAR for life-time achievement. As we all know our great film maestro Satyajit Babu also won OSCAR for life-time achievement. Every Indian must feel proud of him.

Ingmar Bergman was born at UPPSALA in Sweden on 14th July, in the year 1918. He was the second child among three children. His father Erik was a Christian priest, in fact, a  CLERGYMAN and it is his family relationships that influenced him greatly and found expression in all his works.

During his childhood days Bergman used to accompany his father, when he was going to places for preaching Christianity to people. And it is the memory of one’s childhood that goes into the makings of a person one becomes is later years. It always follows a person like his or her own shadow! The same thing is applicable to Ingmar Bergman also. In all of his films, there is a never-ending search for truth. The search for truth is commonly present in all of his films. Likewise Charlie Chaplin had a horrible childhood. He lived in the streets of London as an unwanted child for two years. Because of his childhood, in all of his films, Charlie Chaplin remains all alone on the streets at the end of his films!!

Bergman made SEVENTH SEAL in 1956 which brought him international acclaim. In ‘Seventh Seal’ Bergman examines the relationships of Man to God and Death. This theme stayed at the centre in his works for many years to come. The Seventh Seal contains one of the most memorable scenes ever — in which the Knight opposes death in a game of chess. This explains why this film won the special jury prize at the CANNES film festival — launching Bergman in the forefront of the global film making community.

 Many film critics in the world say that Bergman was the greatest and the most authoritative of the filmmakers of 1950s and 1960s, out-ranking even such great film maestros like Federico Fellini (Italy) Louis Benuel (Mexico) and Jean–Luc Godard (France). Nick James, the editor of SIGHT AND SOUND, the prestigious film quarterly published from London, in his remarks about Bergman said “He was one of the greatest masters and one of the great humanists of cinema. There are very few people of that kind of stature today. He proved that Cinema could be an art form.” In 1988, Woody Allen in his tribute to Bergman on his 70th birthday said that Bergman was “Probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera.”

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Ingmar Bergman produced a film in a year on an average for more than three decades. He always had his focus on LOVE, LONLINESS, ANGUISH and RELATIONS WITH GOD AND ENDLES SEARCH FOR TRUTH. Bergman’s themes could be cerebral, sexual desire found its way to the foreground of most of his films, whether the setting was a medieval plague (The Seventh Seal) or upper-class family life in early 20th century (Fanny and Alexander) or contemporary alienation (The silence). His female characters were usually more in touch with their sexuality than their men and were not afraid to proclaim it, with sometimes breathtaking overtones (cries and whispers) that defined the work of “THE CONJURER” as Bergman called himself in 1960 in Times magazine’s cover story. In an interview with playboy magazine in 1964 he said, “The manifestation of sex is very important, and particularly to me, for above all, I don’t want to make merely intellectual films. I want audiences to feel, to sense my films. This to me is much more important than their understanding them” film, Bergman said, was his demanding mistress. Some of his major actresses doubled up and became his actual mistresses.

Love-twisted, introverted, unexpressed and repulsed become the leitmotifs in many of his films, beginning perhaps, with ‘Winter Light,’ where the Pasteur’s barren faith is contrasted with struggle of his farmer’s mistress, tinged with spite as it is, to help him find spiritual justification through human love.

I would like to mention about his film VIRGIN SPRING. This film is based on 13th legendary tale. The story flows like this. A priest lives in a near-by woods along with his wife and a only daughter of fourteen years old. In an auspicious day, the daughter is sent to a church to offer candles. T he church is on the other side of the woods and it is only a virgin who can be allowed to do that ritual. The girl has to pass through the woods to get there. The girl is riding on a horse, wearing a  white frock. In the middle of the woods, three Shepard boys meet her. Among those three, two were in their youth and the third one was a boy of twelve years old. The two Shepard youth rape the girl and kill her. After killing the girl, the Shepards take he frock from her dead body and leave the corpse in the woods.

In the evening of the very day, all these three Shepards visit the house of the priest unknowingly to get some shelter in the night, on their way to some other place. The wife of the priest provides dinner for them and offers a room for them to sleep in the night. Before retiring in the room, the Shepards show the frock to her and tell that belong to their sister and show their readiness to sell that off for want of money. By seeing this frock, the priest’s wife recognizes that it belongs to her daughter. Immediately she comes out of the room, bolts the door from outside. She goes to  her husband and tells. The priest takes bath, holds a big sword and enters into the room where the shepards are. The priest kills the two Shepard youth with his sword and smashes the Shepard boy against the wall and kills him too.

The priest goes to woods for fetching his daughter’s dead body. The priest finds the dead body in the woods. The moment he lifts the dead body of the girl from the ground a small spring comes out from soil. The priest questions the God why he has killed such an innocent girl and why he made him to kill those three Shepards most brutally, ever though he was so much dedicated to God? So to understand this — a long search continues…………..!!

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Ingmar Bergman loved his mother intensely as a child and when a doctor advised her to set him aside or he would be damaged for life, he felt the loss deeply. Mother-son relationships featured prominently in his work as did his experiences from his five marriages.

Bergman believed in one important thing which is that the stories should be exclusively written for films and not adapting to a novel or a short story for filming. Bergman wrote the stories for almost all his films by himself. I also strongly believe that stories must be written exclusively for films and they must be highly cinematic in content. Cinematic means photographic approach of the subject, instead of adopting a story or a novel for filming. I have always written my own stories for all of my feature films till today and will continue the same in future also.

Another important film of Ingmar Bergman was WILD STRAWBERRIES, which was made in the year 1957. This film is about a famous doctor by name Isak Borg. The story tells of an aging man’s introspective journey on the meaning of his life and inevitability of death. Professor Borg was played by Victor Sjostram who was really an 80 years-old veteran film director of Sweden film Industry. Professor Borg in his car is shown being busy compiling his memories while he was going to a place in Sweden called Lund. He was going to get an honorary degree that he was to receive for 50 years of medical practice. He was accompanied by his daughter-in-law. She was separated from his son, but decides to go home and reconcile with him. The journey to Lund takes Professor Borg through his youth. Like the family’s summer cottage, the town he served as a physician and his mother’s house. On his journey professor Borg meets an young unmarried woman by name Sara, who reminds him of his FIRST LOVE.

On his way to Lund, professor Borg gives a lift to a couple who had a break down in their car. The couple undoubtedly reflect his cruelty to his late wife. In the course of the journey, he confronts his past failures and reconciles with his life and mortality. An endless search for truth is seen throughout the film.

To me the greatest thing in this film was highly creative flash backs. Of course, professor Borg was in love with a girl called Sara, but he could not marry her. Yet he always remembers her in his mind as 20 years old young woman only, eventhough years have passed, but in his memories she remains as a 20 year old only!! Whenever professor Borg thinks about her she appears in his mind as a 20 year old woman only, whereas professor Borg appears in his flash backs as 80 years old man!!!

What a great creativity of Bergman! I bend my head for his respect.

In his journey, he dreams also and all of his dreams are highly symbolic, like professor Borg’s runaway carriage dream signifying the burden of life, guilt, and inexorability of death. In fact, a clock tower was also seen in that dream, but surprisingly the clock was not having any hands to indicate the time! Likewise Professor Borg’s pocket watch was not having any hands to indicate time!!! What does it mean? It is very simple and conveys that Professor Borg’s life was not having any meaning.

In another dream, the quarreling couple who took a lift from Borg appear as examiner (husband) and a patient (wife). Borg appears himself in the dream as a candidate appearing for the examination. He totally fails in the examination for not giving proper answers and in practices too. Entire dream was highly STYLISED.

Bergman worked with Sven Nykvist, his cinematographer. Both of them developed and maintained a working relationship of sufficient rapport to allow Bergman not to worry about the composition of a shot, until the day before it was filmed. On the morning of the shoot, he would briefly speak to Nykvist about the mood and composition he hoped for and then leave Nykvist to work without interruption or comment until post-production discussion of the next day’s work.

When viewing daily rushes, Bergman stressed the importance of being critical but unemotional, claiming that he asked himself not if the work was great or terrible, but if it was sufficient or if it needs to be reshot.


There are many great people I salute them all...

(Author is a Cinematography Graduate from FTII (Pune) and a Hyderabad based Film Director featured in the Limca Book of Records)



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