With the death of Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman nearly seven years ago, new documentaries are being made about his life and one of the most recent is “Liv & Ingmar”, which opens Jan 10 at Landmark Theatres Opera Plaza in San Francisco.
Liv Ullmann’s relationship with Ingmar Bergman is the subject of this Indian, Czech and Norwegian coproduction directed by Dheeraj Akolkar, the story of the problematic relationship between the Norwegian actress and Swedish director. They lived together for three years on the island of Fårö where Bergman had a home and shot some of his films and spent two years breaking it off. Together they had a daughter.
Bergman had eight children and five divorces before his affair with Ullmann. We learn in the documentary how Bergman bullied Ullmann, kept her to himself, and cut off her social contacts. She came into her own when she left him
Several passages from the film are read by Ullmann from her autobiography “Changing” from 1977. Though a destructive relationship for Liv, she had undying loyalty and admiration for Bergman. He called her his “Stradivarius”, meaning a quality instrument he could play his music on, but in their body of work it is clear how they were co-creators. Their professional relationship was successful and they brought out the best in each other. Bergman has often been credited with making strong portraits of women, and the work of Ullmann as one of his best leading ladies that lives up to this claim.
“Liv & Ingmar” uses scenes from several of Ullmann’s films directed by Bergman to tell the story of their relationship such as “Persona” (1966), “Hour of the Wolf” and “Shame” (1968), “The Passion of Anna” (1979), “Cries and Whispers” (1970) and “Scenes from a Marriage”(1972O. Dheeraj Akolkar constructs his film so that these representative films appear to coincide with aspects of Bergman and Ullman’s relationship, something that is not actually true for their real life relationship.
“Saraband”, Bergman’s last picture, was made in 2003 where the older Marianne and Johan from “Scenes from a Marriage” played by Ullmann and Erland Josephson meet again after several years. The film was to have been presented in Cannes that year, but Bergman recalled it since he did not like the digital representation. This is not hard to understand as digital film is far from the quality of 35mm film as exemplified by the famous Swedish auteur. It can be noted in this new documentary how harsh the lighting is in the talking head sequences with Liv. Ullmann is quite sentimental in “Liv & Ingmar” and nostalgic music underlines this sentimentality. It is clear that meeting and working together with Bergman was the turning point of her career but the film though the film is largely about the personal failure of their relationship.