In Memory of Ingmar Bergman

Dear Ingmar Bergman,

I have not watched many of your movies. In fact, I have only watched Fanny and Alexander. But I was so young then, that I couldn’t get it at all. And later, when I started getting a glimpse of what film-making as an art is all about, I was afraid to watch your films.

Bergman1_IE You see, one doesn’t look directly at the sun. If one wants to observe it, study the sun spot features on it, one filters it through a film and projects it on a piece of white paper, and then studies it. Similarly, I have been studying your energy by its influence on other film-makers like Woody Allen. Some might say Woody’s films are like high-school lessons, while yours are a doctoral thesis, and they wouldn’t be wrong. And like many of us common folk, I simply study others’ research, and thus learn about you.

You were the first to bring metaphysics to the screen. Your study of relationships is profound. They say that in your films, the mind is constantly seeking, constantly enquiring, constantly puzzled. For many years, your work was never criticized. Then the first critic lambasted you. It was discovered later that the critic was none other than you yourself. Why did you need to play such pranks?

Much has been written on the Bergmanesque bleakness and depressive overtones in your films. But I think these critics forget your traumatized childhood. They were never locked up in cupboards as children. They were either never around or forget the aftermath of WWII and the discovery of concentration camps. It is all too easy to turn your glare and attention away from evil. There are few courageous men like you, who stare at evil in the eye, and spend a lifetime studying and trying to understand it.

Those who try, understand what is involved. Hence you’ve been called a “Director’s Director”. At the 50th Cannes International Film Festival, all the surviving Palme d’Or-winning directors picked you for the Palme de Palmes award.

Even without having watched your films, I had strong emotions reading about your real meeting with death. Because I do not think great directors like you, who excelled in the art of film-making, can ever succeed in today’s world of blockbusters, feel-good cinema, pop culture, special effects, gangster actors, and sleaze.Bergman2_BBC

That you never won an Oscar says a lot about the Oscar than about you. The Cannes festival director says that you are the last of the greats, as you proved that cinema can be as profound as literature. You once said, “Film as dream, film as music. No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight room of the soul.” A well-known Indian film director calls your cinema a symphony of the human soul.

I come from India, far away from Sweden. But you know about it, through Ray, whom you admired. A Bergman Film Festival in my city of Pune in 2003 caused a massive traffic jam. 500 people packed themselves, standing in aisles and on footsteps, in an auditorium with a capacity of 300. Such is the magic you create, that transcends language, culture, and geopolitical boundaries. India’s National Film Archive, located in Pune has 21 of your films. 5 or so of them are going to be screened this weekend in your memory.

It is a different matter altogether whether I’ll be able to watch any. I’ve not yet decided whether I’m going to try. An American screen-writer and playwright once attended a full-day Bergman festival. “I went at ten o’clock in the morning, and stayed all day. When I left the theater it was still light, but my soul was dark, and I did not sleep for years afterwards”, he said.

And I don’t want to stare at the sun.

An Unquiet Mind Like Yours

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8 thoughts on “In Memory of Ingmar Bergman

  1. Hello, Mahendra — I have not seen even half of Bergman’s body of work, but what I have seen has left a lasting impression on my life. And that impression is not a bad one, but one of wonderment at the power of his mind and his medium. You write: “It is a different matter altogether whether I’ll be able to watch any. I’ve not yet decided whether I’m going to try.” Please let me encourage you dive in! If you would pick one, watch The Silence (the middle film of a trilogy), and feel the silence it portrays with brilliance and perfection. It’s wonderful stuff!

  2. I would love to watch his film festival. So Pune is going to screen some of his films huh, wish I was there! the problem is that in mumbai the distances are so long that even if one does see something that one wants to watch, its too far away! In fact I have missed quite a few good films because of this.
    You’ve written this post in a very poetic manner Mahendra! Its very moving.

  3. Mike: You’re lucky and endowed to have seen and appreciated so much of his work. Thanks for the tip on The Silence. Let me see if I can catch it. I’ve decided to be brave and dive! Well, trying to get a pass. Let’s see if fortune favors someone as brave as me!

    Nita: Why don’t you come over to Pune? 🙂 Let me see the situation of the passes. Thanks for the compliment. I did not include any links like I usually do, because this post felt unique to me. It needed to be solemn. It needed to be austere (as in without any adornment or ornamentation) to be true in spirit to the great genius.

  4. I wrote a long long comment here talking about Bergman, Allen and giving you some links..when I submitted, it said discarded and that was lost.
    What do I do now..I dont have energy to write all that again..may be tomorrow..:((

  5. Oh no! 😦

    I checked the comments in admin to see if your comment was marked as pending moderation or sent to the spam folder, but no! It must have been a connection error of some sort. I’m so sorry and feel so bad! Please, please, write again!

  6. Ok, here I go again. 🙂
    That was another gem of a post! Bergman is hero of my hero, Woody Allen. Whenever I discover more of Allen, through his biographies and his interviews in those books, shadow of Bergman is always there. Allen’s first semi- serious film, after a decade of pure comedies, Love and Death (1975) was a tribute to Bergman’s Seventh Seal and for years, until Allen described Match Point his most satisfying experience, Stardust memories (1980) was Allen’s most creatively satisfying experience (even though stardust memories failed at box office and even ripped apart by critics). Now, stardust memories was inspired by Allen’s most favorite film, Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. Like Bergman, Allen’s work has recurring themes of Godless Universe, unpredictability of relationships and mortality.

    Bergman is not easy to watch. His films are not for everybody..not because you cannot grasp his ideas if they were explained, but because Bergman never explains. He dramatizes his ideas subtly, using set ups intended for the well-educated, socially experienced and psychologically sophisticated audience. Iam still discovering Bergman; I recently watched Seventh Seal and boy I fell in love with it. Still, I would imagine that Bergman will remain bit too dark for my sensibilities. I would rather prefer seriousness of Bergman’s themes juxtaposed with Allen’s brand of cerebral humor; Annie Hall and some other movies of Allen therefore work wonders for me.

    You can check some of my earlier posts which you might find interesting and even worth contributing with your comments. They are under Film Directors, Filmmaking workshop and Film reviews categories. Ok wait, let me provide you links for some of those posts.

  7. Dev, thank you so much for taking the pains to type again! I owe you one! 🙂

    I didn’t know so many details of which of Allen’s work was inspired by which of Bergman’s. Thanks for the info. I have seen neither Wild Strawberries, nor Stardust Memories. I will try and see Stardust Memories to start with.

    You are right. Bergman is not easily ‘accessible’. You have described his inaccessibility to the general audience very nicely. You are at least discovering him, I haven’t even started! I too watched Seventh Seal during the time of this post, and was able to appreciate it only in parts. The allegory of playing chess with Death was just too overwhelming for me to venture any further or deeper! It will take repeated viewings for me.

    Unlike you, I am not averse to the darkness; I’m quite comfortable with it. But at times, in day-to-day hectic life, the sophistication required to watch Bergman seems elusive. At times I think I need to take a break for a few days, spend some quiet time at a remote place with nature, and after a week or so of such solitude, I can then watch a Bergman. 🙂

    For e.g., I have Cries and Whispers with me for over 3 years, but haven’t seen it yet. I just don’t feel ready for it.

    Allen, on the other hand is thoroughly enjoyable! His brand of ‘cerebral humor’ – as you put it – makes me feel perfectly at home.

    Yes, as I said, I will explore your blog purely for selfish reasons – I love to learn! 🙂

  8. Thanks! Well, darkness doesnt really bother me too much, but as I said, Bergman is bit too dark for me. 🙂
    Cries and whispers is in my list too..but do watch wildlife strawberries soon if you can..that’s supposed to be Bergman’s best film by many..

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