Releasing at BFI Southbank, HOME Manchester and selected cinemas across the UK is Jane Magnusson’s sensitive yet unflinching documentary Bergman – A Year In A Life, that, with its focus on 1957, in which Ingmar directed The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, exposes the darker, less well-known side of one of the legendary figures in world cinema.
Bergman – A Year in the Life is a new documentary feature from filmmaker and journalist Jane Magnusson. Releasing in selected UK cinemas as well as BFI Southbank and HOME in Manchester, Magnusson’s film focuses on a single extraordinary year for Ingmar Bergman in which he released both The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries.
The filmmaker, who critic Philip French called “one of the greatest artists of the 20th century”, is showcased with sensitivity in the film which its director also narrates. However, Bergman – A Year in the Life isn’t afraid to delve into the much darker, less talked about side of one of world cinema’s most legendary figures.
Magnusson, who in 2013 won the Axel Liffner award for “twisting and turning cultural journalism in every media format imaginable, old as well as new” says she met a number of people who worked with Bergman who collectively “paint a multi-coloured image of a great artist who could be very inspiring, but also terrifying.”
Having previously made Trespassing Bergman, in which Magnusson interviewed leading filmmakers about Bergman’s influence on them, Bergman – A Year in the Life delves far deeper by revealing the recollections of those who knew him well. Over the course of three years, the director spoke to everyone from stars to script supervisors to sound technicians and assistant directors; anyone and everyone willing to tell their Bergman story.
Over the course of her research Magnusson understandably believes she came to better understand a man who she says is “super sensitive to sound, light, food, dreams, but not really to other people. A man who worked harder and faster than anyone else in the history of cinema.”
Indeed, Bergman, who has been described as a creative genius, could also be a bully, a compulsive liar, an absent father and Nazi sympathiser. Given these facets, it is surprising no one has made a film about how they structured Bergman’s life, on and off screen, previously. That very thought crossed Magnusson’s mind, prompting her to put the project together. She told Nordic Women I Film: “When I first began researching what Bergman’s life was like in 1957, I was stunned and thought that somebody really ought to make a film about this very intense year of his life. And then I thought – why shouldn’t I make that film myself?”
While the Swedish filmmaker had made Smiles of a Summer Night before 1957 and the likes of Persona, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage and Fanny and Alexander afterwards, many consider the year he released The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries to be his greatest as a film director.
Bergman – A Year in the Life brings together a wealth of previously unseen archive material (including Bergman at work and in interviews), contemporary commentators and those that new him personally as well as clips and stills from his vast body of work to provide audiences, particular fans of world cinema and the man himself, one of the standout film documentaries of 2018.
Among the many interviewees in the film are cast and crew members that worked with Bergman including Elliott Gould, Liv Ullmann and Gunnel Lindblom. Also commenting are Holly Hunter, Barbra Streisand, Lars von Trier, John Landis, Lena Olin, Zhang Yimou and others.
With its screenings at BFI Southbank, the film caps its year-long Bergman centenary activity which included a retrospective season at BFI Southbank during the winter and UK wide re-releases of Bergman’s greatest films as well as remastered DVD and Blu-ray releases. Geoff Andrew, the BFI’s Bergman expert who programmed the retrospective at BFI Southbank, describes Magnusson’s focus – 1957 – as a “turbulent but miraculously productive year when Bergman”.
He adds: “Besides unveiling The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries and working extensively in theatre and TV, led a messily complicated domestic life that included a spell in hospital. This focus is merely the springboard for a survey that spirals out to embrace everything from childhood to old age, touching on his many creative achievements, his strengths and failings as a man, and the way his art derived from his life. Illuminating anecdotes are offered by many who knew him – none, however, perhaps quite as revealing as Ingmar’s own testimony.”
Says Magnusson: “My ambition is for young people to see this documentary and go: ‘I have never heard of this strange, great artist before, but now I would like to see some of his films.’”
Bergman – A Year in a Life will open at selected cinemas UK-wide from January 25 2019.