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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  • Mike Chap­man

    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!

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Dev

    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..:((

  • Dev

    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.

  • Dev

    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..