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Filmmaker Ingmar Bergman born 100 years ago

Jochen Kürten mm
July 12, 2018

With a movie career spanning five decades, Ingmar Bergman has become an integral part of the history of cinema. DW revisits his life and incredible masterpieces, while uncovering some surprising facts.

Ingmar Bergman
Image: Getty Images/AFP/J. Forsell

Hailed by many as the greatest film director of the 20th century, Ingmar Bergman — who was born on July 14, 1918 and died more than a decade ago — was certainly one of the pioneers of the seventh art of filmmaking.

Ten years before his death, the Cannes Film Festival awarded the Swede a special prize: "The Palme of Palmes," effectively proclaiming him the best director of all time.

Such superlatives are of course questionable, but they affirm the indelible mark on the industry that Bergman has left, along with an incredible body of work.

Workaholic and extensive writer

Born in Uppsala, Sweden, Bergman was a workaholic behind the camera and on stage. Between 1946 and 2003, he directed numerous films, mostly for the big screen. He did experiment with the smaller television format early on in its development, and was also one of Europe's most influential theater directors.

He also wrote extensively: Memories and diaries, and scripts of course, a huge collection of texts that has not yet been fully indexed.

Ingmar Bergman in Stockholm
In the mid-1950s, Bergman began to see recognition from the Cannes Film Festival for his work Image: picture-alliance/dpa/Scanpix/M. Hartman

Bergman's films won numerous awards, including in the US, where he received three Oscars for "The Virgin Spring," "Through a Glass Darkly" and "Fanny and Alexander."

It is no secret that many of his movie industry peers revered the Swede and have tried to imitate him over and over again. The best known Bergman fan is perhaps Woody Allen. The American, probably best known as a melancholic comedy director, shot two serious films à la Bergman: "September" and "Another Woman."

Respected across the Arts world

Away from cinema, many other top names from the world of culture have spoken highly of Bergman. The new edition of his memoirs, "The Magic Lantern," which was republished recently in Germany, includes a foreword by French writer Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Ingmar Bergman und Liv Ullmann Flash-Galerie
Bergman pictured with Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann, with whom he had a 5-year relationshipImage: AP

Bergman's relationships with women have also been extensively written about. The Swede had numerous wives and affairs, often at the same time, and many of his liaisons were with his leading actresses.

"Art, for him, is a web of lies, jealousy, and erotic games, with half-funny, half-tragic dramas that produce the same clear-sighted intelligence that one would find on the battlefield, where nothing can be conquered but everything must be captured," Le Clezio described in the book's foreword.

Master of psychological drilling

Bergman's audiences were often not spared this battlefield of emotions, which the filmmaker could deliver with unbearable intensity. The Swede was one of the first to show and address eroticism and sexuality with an remarkable openness.

He also connected these deeply emotional experiences, with questions about the meaning of life, illness and death, and the search for God. The question of whether religion can ever truly help man, occupied the director time and time again.

Arts.21: The Legacy – Ingmar Bergman's Life Exclusively at a German Publishing House

Behind the facade

In May, a new documentary was premiered at the Cannes Film Festival which revealed some surprising insights about the director's life.

"Bergman: A Year in a Life," by Swedish filmmaker Jane Magnusson, divulges more about Bergman's youthful Nazi sympathies — the would-be director grew up in an ultra-right wing household, and even attended one of Adolf Hitler's rallies.

The documentary also describes how Bergman exorcised what he says was his own traumatic childhood through film, which his family members argue was somewhat exaggerated.

Although what the director has revealed about his life and work should perhaps be treated with caution, the artistic power of his movies can never be understated.