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.
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.
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