Bergman Island

A writer is dear and necessary for us only in the measure of which he reveals to us the inner workings of his very soul. Tolstoy

I have always been profoundly attracted to the films of Ingmar Bergman. I’ve viewed them over and over again. His films are among the very few DVD’s that I’ve purchased and there are always a few in my Netflix Queue.

Bergman has captured his inner life with as much honesty as any director or writer I know. To a certain extent, it is the inner life of every man. I know it bears a certain similarity to my own. This is especially true of his films Persona, Scenes of a Marriage, Saraband, and Autumn Sonata,

Ingmar Bergman died in 2007 at the age of 89 at his home on Faro an isolated, tiny island in the Baltic with only five hundred year-round residents. Faro has no school, no post office, no doctor’s office, but there is a market and a church. For many years Bergman lived alone by the seashore, sometimes going for days without speaking to anyone. He said, “When I’m on Faro, I’m never alone.”

Bergman Island is a documentary in which for the first time he agreed to be interviewed. During the holidays I watched it once again. The several interviews depicted in the film were culled from hours of footage originally shown in three episodes on Swedish television.

They were conducted after Bergman completed his last film, Saraband, when he finally seemed ready to talk with someone about his life, family (5 wives, 9 children, and various romantic relations), and his varied artistic experiences in the cinema and theater.

These reminiscences are interspersed with scenes from his films to illustrate the way he translated his life to the screen. His films have always been intensely personal. They pose questions about:

• Mortality: Not a day has gone by in my life when I haven’t thought about death.

• Guilt: I had a bad conscience until I discovered that having a bad conscience about something so gravely serious as leaving your children is an affectation, a way of achieving a little suffering that can’t for a moment be equal to the suffering you’ve caused.

• Sex: …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.

• Silence: There’s something quite pleasurable about not talking…silence is wonderful.

The film is an intimate, compelling portrait of a man who many regard among the greats of the cinema. Woody Allen, who at times, has written and directed films modeled on Bergman’s (Interiors, Hannah and Her Sisters, Crimes and Misdemeanors) referred to him as “… probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera.”

And Krzysztof Kieslowski, who directed the Trois Couleurs (Blue, White, and Red), believes Bergman “…is one of the few directors—perhaps the only one in the world—to have said as much about human nature as Dostoevsky or Camus.”

For me Bergman Island is a beautiful depiction of a deeply reflective man as his life draws to a close and his efforts to understand his past and the daemons that have always haunted him. His music, his film library, and his rich memories are more than enough for him now.

And he seems utterly at peace in talking about them, perhaps even longing to do so. He is also in a place where he continues to find great beauty. It is his home, his “querencia,” as he knew it was the first time he set foot on Faro.

Here is a preview of the film: