Darkness Unto Light. The Cinema of Ingmar Bergman

September 7 – October 14, 2018

Darkness Unto Light. The Cinema of Ingmar Bergman

Of all the iconic images that Ingmar Bergman forged in his long career, the one that sits in the public imagination most potently as a totem of his imposing, death-obsessed oeuvre is that of Bengt Ekerot’s pasty grim reaper staring down Max von Sydow’s dumbfounded knight on a stygian coastline sometime after the sputtering of the Crusades in The Seventh Seal, his arm outstretched to reveal the great black expanse of his shawl and his stark expression all but ensuring an unfortunate verdict. As a composition, it is formidable, and as an encapsulation of the confrontational directness with which Bergman’s films tackle mortality and other unpleasant human inevitabilities, it’s hard to beat. But another image from later in the same film, equally as unforgettable, manages to better distill the complex weave of contradictory feelings that his films evoke—the idea that in death and illness and madness there is also always humanity and light and memory. That, of course, would be the money shot in the film’s coda, a distant sunset view of silhouetted figures passing from one life to the next atop a hill, not trudging to their demise but dancing, hands interlocked.

Such evocations of communal solidarity are rare in Bergman’s ruthlessly combative world, and so it’s fitting that this particular shot occurs in a liminal state beyond the narrative proper. With that said, Bergman’s characters, however wracked with doubt and despair they may be, could almost never be accused of apathy or complete surrender, and the crucibles they endure in pursuit of connection or just basic contentedness echo those of the filmmaker himself, whose six decades of cinematic production demonstrate a man fiercely contending with his demons through his art, occasionally pulling ahead and locating beauty if only to be dragged down yet again. That his drive to create never ceased in the face of lifelong depression, myriad divorces and other family trials, and unsympathetic critics is one of the prodigious accomplishments of film history. A diligent cinephile could reasonably expect one or two Bergman films a year throughout the second half of the 20th century, a level of sustained productivity matched in the realm of world-class auteurs only by Jean-Luc Godard and Alain Resnais.

Much as this perseverance can be accredited to the mettle of the artist himself, to a large extent it was also enabled by Bergman’s peculiar and privileged position as a serious-minded arthouse filmmaker who commanded an unrivalled degree of industry cachet in his native Sweden throughout his career. Bergman’s professional life began in the theater shortly after his studies at Stockholm University, where he built an early reputation for his managerial competence and skill with actors that would pay off later in his ascent to the role of director at the Royal Dramatic Theatre (1960-66). He would remain a fixture there for the rest of his life, securing a position at the forefront of Sweden’s cultural elite, but it was in his breakout years of stage production that he attracted the attention of Svensk Filmindustri head Carl Anders Dymling, who recruited him as a scriptwriter in 1943. Three years later, he had logged his first directing credit with the female-fronted social drama Crisis—hardly a quintessential Bergman film, but one with a then-novel degree of intimacy and enough visual panache to excite the industry gatekeepers.

Bergman’s real breakout came in 1953 with Summer with Monika, a modest coming-of-age drama marketed as an erotic escape in America despite its sensitive, sobering treatment of sex and the rude awakenings of adulthood. With the help of a ringing endorsement from Godard (“the most original film of the most original of directors”), Monika inaugurated a decade of seminal works, each propelling Bergman further into the international spotlight. Smiles of a Summer Night, a lithe romantic roundelay voluptuously photographed both in studio and on location by Gunnar Fischer, exposed the director’s knack for spiking comedy with misery. The Seventh Seal, an allegorical historical fantasy that sets its sights on the meaning of life, cemented his audacity. Wild Strawberries, a touching elegy for old-age regrets, exhibited a panoramic maturity. And The Virgin Spring, a snapshot of Sweden’s heathen period, spotlighted a willingness to challenge with extremes of formal austerity and grim subject matter.

If the fifties established Bergman as an artist, though, the sixties laid bare his soul. In a pair of trilogies, the filmmaker increasingly honed a spare, elemental style to tackle questions of God’s existence or lack thereof, man’s moral complicity in cycles of violence, and the inability of humans to relate to one another, all filtered through narratives of almost painful psychological intimacy. It was in this period that he secured a stable of collaborators that would come to define the Bergman brand: cinematographer Sven Nykvist, script supervisor Katinka Faragó, costume designer Mago, and, most importantly, actors Liv Ullmann, Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Harriet Andersson, Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnel Lindblom, and others. Bergman became known for an alternately demanding and tender manner on set, with few thespians leaving an experience under his tutelage without citing some episode of bullish authoritarianism, and even fewer without touching on the deep trust and self-confidence he instilled in them. Uncommonly revealing and lengthy close-ups, the director’s celebrated aesthetic forte, were used as tools for breaking down a performer’s defenses as well as vessels for the inner spirit, and no actor left Bergman’s grip without one.

The sixties also clarified the cluster of motifs and symbols that Bergman would draw on for the rest of his career: lonely coastlines, humble cottages, ticking clocks, grim reapers, puppet theaters and vague intimations of war. In his autobiographical Images: My Life in Film, Bergman would remark at length on the “strange wonders, unexpected sights, and magical wonders” of his childhood, tying his fixation on a certain family of images to his fraught upbringing. The son of a Lutheran pastor, Bergman grew up in a staunchly conservative household in Uppsala that was steeped in Christian iconography and ritual, and this experience both developed and doomed him. As he aged, the primacy of God in his thinking collided with a snowballing fear of death to breed the signature anguish that courses through his cinema, much of which can be traced through the network of recurring motifs that figure in his films.  By the early sixties, all but divested of hope for a God, Bergman moved to the remote Fårö Island to focus on his writing far away from the cocoon of religious stimuli that nurtured him.

Having cultivated the ideal conditions for his creativity, Bergman was able to flourish for the final three decades of his life while never severing his connection to Swedish production resources. Indeed, he even expanded his reach to encompass the medium of television, within which he produced a pair of timeless classics: Scenes from a Marriage, an incisive survey of a tumultuous marriage over the course of ten years, and Fanny and Alexander, a yuletide family saga that is perhaps the most richly autobiographical of his projects. In adopting this then-fledgling medium, Bergman introduced new technical components to his craft, namely inexpensive 16mm stock and versatile zoom lenses, which in turn influenced the aesthetic he would bring to late-period efforts like Autumn Sonata and After the Rehearsal. This assimilation of new modes of expression into his mature style follows a trend that repeats throughout his body of work: though Bergman was not the first to broach cinematic modernism, to incorporate avant-garde devices into narrative grammar, or to play with long-form, episodic storytelling, he consistently found ways to make such interventions his own.

Not everyone agrees. In the months following Bergman’s peaceful passing in 2007 on the same day as Michelangelo Antonioni, reconsiderations of the director as the outmoded, self-serious ghoul of postwar art cinema nearly outweighed the celebratory remembrances, with Jonathan Rosenbaum claiming that “his movies aren’t so much filmic expressions as expressions on film” in an article insolently titled “Scenes From an Overrated Career.” Such pieces planted the seed for a pattern of critical thinking that has persisted for some time since, though with the recent resurgence of the director on the occasion of his centennial, audiences can be newly baptized by the primal force of his art and decide for themselves if his films are, per Rosenbaum, “too self-absorbed to say much about the larger world.” To be sure, if Bergman’s life story is any indication, the filmmaker certainly may have been less than enamored with the “larger world,” but to sympathetic eyes, the torrid soul searching and private epiphanies of his films at best work to instill a yearning, for those not always blessed with such energy, to find meaning in life. – Carson Lund

 

The Brattle Theatre in Cambridge and the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline join the HFA in celebrating the 100th birthday of Ingmar Bergman. With screenings running through October 10, the Brattle kicks off the retrospective on August 31 with a multi-day run of Persona. The Coolidge Corner’s offerings include a screening of Autumn Sonata on September 16 at 2pm with star Liv Ullmann in person and an outdoor screening of Wild Strawberries at the Mount Auburn Cemetery on September 26. Together the theaters will be hosting over thirty screenings of the legendary filmmaker’s work.

Special thanks: Beth Gilligan, Mark Anastasio —Coolidge Corner Theatre; Ned Hinkle—Brattle Theatre; Marianne Lampke, Beacon Cinema Group; and Brian Belovarac—Janus Films.

Film descriptions by Carson Lund


August 31 – September 4 at the Brattle Theatre: PERSONA

Wednesday September 5 at 7pm – Coolidge Corner Theatre: SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT


Friday September 7 at 7pm

Summer with Monika
(Sommaren med Monika)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Harriet Andersson, Lars Ekborg, John Harryson
Sweden 1953, 35mm, b/w, 97 min. Swedish with English subtitles

Produced on the cheap just prior to Sawdust and TinselSummer with Monika is one of Bergman’s most important transitional works, a film that doesn’t loudly proclaim its maker’s identity but possesses hints of things to come. It focuses on certain motifs that rarely showed up in Bergman’s oeuvre after they were dealt with here: an almost fatalistic use of nature as rhythmic punctuation, teenage rebellion, and a neorealist attention to the working class. Nevertheless, the clear-eyed intelligence it exhibits in telling the potentially salacious tale of a defiant young woman who enjoys a hedonistic summer off the coast of her drab seaside town marks it as an early flowering of Bergman’s devotion to the complexities of female characters, even if the film was clumsily marketed in America as an exploitation flick. Though finding much tactile beauty in the contrast between the rugged Swedish archipelago and the soft, wind-kissed features of his heroine, Bergman also never loses sight of the encroaching sense of social responsibility hanging over his spontaneous characters, a sobering balance that inspired Jean-Luc Godard to hail Summer with Monika as “the most original film by the most original of filmmakers.” Print courtesy Janus Films.

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Friday September 7 at 9pm

The Magician (Ansiktet)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Max von Sydow, Ingrid Thulin, Åke Fridell
Sweden 1958, 35mm, b/w, 101 min. Swedish with English subtitles

In The Magician, Bergman stages a diabolical confrontation between faith and rationality, personified in the figures of Dr. Vogler (Max von Sydow) and Dr. Vergérus (Gunnar Björnstrand).In the film’s opening minutes, Vogler, the taciturn leader of a group of itinerant magicians, guides his rickety stagecoach through an ominously foggy forest to meet with Vergérus, Minister of Health in 19th century Stockholm and an avowed skeptic of Vogler’s act. What follows is a tensely suspended battle of wits between masters in the art of deception and purveyors of official science, a Gothic fairy tale that spikes the path toward an explosive climax with lengthy verbal sparring matches and playful narrative detours. Beginning with a group interrogation, the film gradually splinters into a series of one-on-one scenes as the troupe spends an evening with Vergerus’ fellow town officials and their families, a discursive structure that nods to Bergman’s theater work and provides a springboard for fine acting by Bergman regulars such as Ingrid Thulin and Bibi Andersson as well as less frequent collaborators like Bengt Ekerot and Åke Fridell. Print courtesy Janus Films.

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Saturday September 8 at 7pm

Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Max von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Ingrid Thulin
Sweden 1968, 35mm, b/w, 88 min. Swedish and Norwegian with English subtitles

Bergman’s psychological demons long pervaded his work implicitly, but rarely were they given the monstrous material form they are accorded in Hour of the Wolf,the director’s only outright horror film. It doesn’t take much interpretive work to register Max von Sydow’s tortured artist, Johan, as a transparent director surrogate, since the character, who is visiting a remote island cottage with his pregnant wife (Liv Ullmann, who had given birth to Bergman’s child two years prior), is prone to the kind of doom-laden, self-lacerating monologues that Bergman would often record in writing. Over the course of an especially dark night of the soul, in the particular pocket of time referenced by the title, Johan is tormented by the visions that hitherto only plagued him in nightmares. A group of suspicious neighbors, including a spectacularly ominous Erland Josephson, invite him over for a late dinner party that descends into a malicious trap, at which point Bergman spills a funhouse-mirror display of disorienting imagery that makes cunning use of primitive special effects. That Bergman followed up Hour of the Wolf with a film as formidable as Shame is hard to fathom; this feels like the kind of private exorcism from which artists cannot easily return. Print courtesy Park Circus.

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Saturday September 8 at 9pm

Shame (Skammen)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Liv Ullmann, Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand
Sweden 1968, 35mm, b/w, 103 min. Swedish with English subtitles

Though he lived in neutral Sweden, Bergman was not immune to the horrors of the 20th century’s many nasty conflicts, and in Shame, the director’s aggrieved conscience regarding his longtime detachment from political conflict weighs heavily on a narrative that considers the ravages of violence on innocent bystanders. Made during the height of the Vietnam War (intimations of which already made their way into The Silence and Persona), the film vividly dramatizes a brutal Civil War as it rips its way into the lives of Jan and Eva Rosenberg (Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann), a loving couple who nonetheless harbor differing visions of their future and dormant resentments to go with it. The war, potently realized first as an ominous ambiance of offscreen clatter and flashes of grenade fire and, eventually, as a frighteningly immediate and deadly ordeal, interrupts the pair’s lives just as their most private epiphanies are on the horizon, and as state forces and rebel armies descend on the Rosenberg farm, precious little is able to remain sacred in their relationship. Featuring profoundly intimate performances from von Sydow and Ullmann as well as some of Bergman’s most pyrotechnical filmmaking, Shame bears witness to the methodical scorching of the earth and the few bonds that survive in the rubble. Print courtesy Park Circus.

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Sunday September 9 at 7pm

Sawdust and Tinsel
(Gycklarnas afton)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Harriet Andersson, Åke Grönberg, Hasse Ekman
Sweden 1953, DCP, b/w, 92 min. Swedish with English subtitles

Bergman was married to journalist Gun Grut when he made Sawdust and Tinsel, but he was also in the midst of an affair with Harriet Andersson, so themes of loyalty and betrayal pervade the film. Andersson is at the story’s center as the voluptuous temptress of traveling circus ringmaster Albert Johansson (Åke Grönberg), a rather unflattering director surrogate. Albert is having moral qualms about leaving his wife for a demanding career on the road while also struggling with the temptations and erotic games played by Andersson. It’s a plot whose autobiographical overtones are nakedly apparent, and yet the film, despite its displays of sexual humiliation and suicidal rage, ultimately has a warmth that’s uncommon whenever Bergman writes so frankly from the gut, a sense of real affection for its wandering, lowbrow entertainers. A year before La Strada, Bergman portrays backstage camaraderie and the ruthlessness of circus life in his own inimitable manner, offering studio-set expressionism where Fellini would bring a lyrical neorealism, and experimenting with formal maneuvers later employed in Hour of the Wolf and PersonaDCP courtesy Janus Films.

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Wednesday September 12 at 7pm – Coolidge Corner Theatre: THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY


Saturday September 15 at 6pm

The Magic Flute (Trollflöjten)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Josef Köstlinger, Irma Urrila, Håkan Hagegård
Sweden 1975, DCP, color, 135 min. Swedish with English subtitlesh

Bergman’s admiration for Mozart, evident elsewhere in films such as Smiles of a Summer Night and Hour of the Wolf,reaches its full flowering in The Magic Flute, a reverent adaptation of the composer’s two-act opera about the trials of Prince Tamino in the face of the malicious Queen of the Night. Crooned in Swedish by a cast of fresh-faced thespians, many of whom were making their screen debuts, the film is Bergman’s only musical and yet unfolds with a vibrancy and tunefulness that belies his relative inexperience in the genre. Singing and dancing emerge organically from spoken passages, offering an expressive outlet not typically granted to Bergman’s anguished, spiritually weary characters, and the director’s usual pessimism is likewise tempered in the face of Mozart’s abiding faith in the transportive, conquering power of love. Conceived as a television production in honor of the 50th anniversary of Sveriges Radio, the project was funded generously enough for Bergman to recreate Vienna’s Theater auf der Weiden in studio—to which the director draws constant attention in his proscenium-arch framing—though the delightfully handmade special effects and props call to mind less a regal 18th century auditorium than a puppet theater in a child’s bedroom. DCP courtesy Janus Films.

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Saturday September 15 at 9pm

The Devil’s Eye (Djävulens öga)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Jarl Kulle, Bibi Andersson, Stig Järrel
Sweden 1960, 35mm, b/w, 84 min. Swedish with English subtitles

In the grand foyer of hell, Satan seethes with an eye irritation caused by the chastity of a priest’s daughter up in the earthly realm. Seeking to correct this, he enlists his lecherous tenant, Don Juan, to seduce the young woman, teaming him with a sidekick to help move things along. A bittersweet farce built out of a ludicrous metaphysical scenario, The Devil’s Eye is Bergman’s least characteristic film on paper, and yet it’s one that is marked by a few of his signature concerns—romantic humiliation, the inability to connect, and the waning of youthful innocence in the face of adult pragmatism—and a fairy-tale-like buoyancy familiar at that point from Smiles of a Summer Night. As in that film, Bergman coaxes stellar work from director of photography Gunnar Fischer, who again makes use of vaguely expressionistic studio lighting to lend enriching undertones to Bergman’s already dynamic two shots.

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Sunday September 16 at 2pm – Coolidge Corner: AUTUMN SONATA with Liv Ullmann in Person


Sunday September 16 at 7pm

The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg, Birgitta Pettersson
Sweden 1960, 35mm, b/w, 87 min. Swedish and German with English subtitles

The Virgin Spring marks a pivotal turning point in Bergman’s career. It was the director’s first significant collaboration with cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who would help usher in an emphasis on location rather than studio shooting, and the film won an Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film, which solidified an international reputation for Bergman that had been building steadily throughout the fifties. Arguably inventing the rape-revenge subgenre, the film expands upon a medieval poem to visualize the grim tale of a young virgin’s deadly defiling and her farmhand father’s retribution against her barbaric murderers. While Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left and countless other horror films have taken their cues from Bergman’s stone-cold procedural, few have recaptured its matter-of-fact intensity or chilling vision of casual evil, a quality most evident in the lengthy assault scene, shot largely in detached wide shots, that triggers the plot. Similarly exemplary is the film’s period detail, which extends from its remote forest locations and rugged costuming to its distilled portrait of Christianity’s blossoming in a 13th century Scandinavia still steeped in Paganism.

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Wednesday September 19 at 7pm – Coolidge Corner Theatre: CRIES AND WHISPERS


Friday September 21 at 7pm

Persona

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Margaretha Krook
Sweden 1966, DCP, b/w, 83 min. Swedish and English with English subtitles

Arguably Bergman’s most representative and iconic film, Persona is the pivot point between the director’s two great sixties trilogies (his crisis-of-faith trio and the island-set films with which he closed the decade), blending crucial elements of both into something spare, chilling and inimitable. Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson star as a traumatized actress and her caretaker, respectively, but are they really two different people at all? The most abstractly drawn of all Bergman narratives, Persona migrates the women from a nondescript hospital in an undisclosed location to a remote seaside cottage and back again, their initial nurse-patient dynamic deteriorating, flipping and finally exploding over the course of a fraught, dreamlike eighty-three minutes. Taking influence from the era’s avant-garde underground as well as from the modernist methods of filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard and Michelangelo Antonioni, Bergman fashions an expressionistic surface that mirrors the mental landscapes of his two sparring heroines, juxtaposing meditative landscape shots against stuttering montage freak-outs and ambitious, sculptural uses of the human face. DCP courtesy Janus Films.

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Friday September 21 at 9pm

All These Women (För att inte tala om alla dessa kvinnor)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Jarl Kulle, Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson
Sweden 1964, DCP, b/w & color, 77 min. Swedish, English, German and French with English subtitles

This atypical slapstick romp by Bergman follows a haughty music critic (Jarl Kulle) who ventures to the home of a renowned cellist only to be snubbed by his subject and regaled instead by the parade of women who orbit the artist’s domestic sphere. Despite the cheery mood and tossed-off musical cues, however, there’s a notably personal dimension to the material, as the critic’s presumptuous attitude, much as it makes him an exasperating protagonist, marks him as an apparent representation of the director’s attitude toward the rational-minded reviewers of his own work. Likewise, the fact that the resilient women who simultaneously charm and sabotage the aspiring biographer are played by a stable of Bergman muses (Eva Dahlbeck, Bibi Andersson, and Harriet Andersson) adds further shading to the film’s enlightening, if somewhat petty, itinerary of famous filmmaker neuroses. Bergman shot All These Women in vibrant color on provocatively fake-looking sets, and the resulting aesthetic is a novelty in his career, albeit not one with much staying power; the director wouldn’t use color stock again for another five years. DCP courtesy Janus Films.

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Saturday September 22 at 9pm
Saturday October 6 at 7pm

Through a Glass Darkly
(Såsom i en spegel)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow
Sweden 1961, 35mm, b/w, 91 min. Swedish with English subtitles

The nearly unbroken daylight of the Swedish summer is exploited to haunting effect in Through a Glass Darkly, a family drama staged in a purgatorial overcast. Inaugurating Bergman’s faith trilogy, the film dives into the complex relationships among a schizophrenic woman, Karin (Harriet Andersson, in her signature performance for the director), her ineffectual husband (Max von Sydow), emotionally barren father (Gunnar Björnstrand), and newly pubescent brother (Lars Passgard), all of whom convene for a summer vacation at a ramshackle cottage on a rocky coastline. No one can comprehend or adequately deal with Karin’s disease, and so in spite of their efforts to enjoy their time together, matters quickly turn for the worse, with Karin’s anxious episodes stirring the latent discomforts and resentments of her company. In this spare chamber piece, shot in a gloomy chiaroscuro style that evokes Carl Theodor Dreyer and set to snatches of Bach at his most desolate, Bergman confronts issues of mental illness, incest and the silence of a possibly malignant God with a clarity and bluntness then unprecedented in his career, finding in the film’s compressed timeline and confined location a form with which to combat a consuming period of depression.

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Sunday September 23 at 1pm

Scenes from a Marriage
(Scener ur ett äktenskap)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, Bibi Andersson
Sweden 1973, DCP, color, 283 min. Swedish with English subtitles

Depicting ten years in the lives of a turbulent married couple, Bergman’s first television series rigorously charts the evolution of a single romantic relationship as it careens toward the ravages of old age, taking stock of everything from its blissful, erotic highs to its violent, harrowing lows. Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson give arguably the performances of their careers as Marianne and Johan, a couple who share a simultaneously enriching and parasitic union, resembling time-tested friends or even siblings one moment and venomous foes the next. In adapting to the stricter production demands of television, Bergman and Nykvist turned to lightweight 16mm cameras to enable handheld, fly-on-the-wall shooting in Johan and Marianne’s modest Stockholm apartment, a decision that’s an ideal fit for the material. The claustrophobic proximity of the camera to the performers, coupled with the grainy, unshowy aesthetic, accommodates the extreme level of nuance on which the drama operates, in addition to anticipating whatever ugliness gets dredged up. Ultimately, however, it’s the show’s patiently drawn-out scenes of tranquility and mutual affection, like the one in which Ullmann and Josephson trade their deepest thoughts in front of a crackling fireplace, that linger most potently in hindsight. DCP courtesy Janus Films.

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Sunday September 23 at 8pm: WILD STRAWBERRIES at Mt. Auburn Cemetery


Monday September 24 at 7pm
Saturday October 6 at 9pm

Winter Light (Nattvardsgästerna)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand, Gunnel Lindblom
Sweden 1962, 35mm, b/w, 80 min. Swedish with English subtitles

The stark, pared-down style that defines Bergman’s Faith Trilogy reaches its apex in Winter Light, a film whose persistent chilliness is a direct outgrowth of the inner life of its protagonist, a Lutheran pastor, Tomas, in the midst of a crisis of faith. Ill and nearly friendless, Tomas preaches to his measly congregation with a distinct lack of passion, all while warding off the advances of a lonely schoolteacher and struggling to console his suffering devotees. In reflecting this dreary midwinter existence, Bergman, working closely with Sven Nykvist, removes any and all flourishes from his visual language, responding to Tomas’ paralyzing numbness by leeching the film of the sensual pleasures of camera movement and musical score. The film is defined by long shots in unglamorous light, and key moments (such as the suicide of Tomas’ fellow depressive in icy rapids) are seen only from a detached perspective that mimics the inaction of a silent God. That it all leads to one of the most vicious verbal assaults in Bergman’s output should come as no surprise, but the weighty grimness of Winter Light is also enveloping, qualifying it to stand alongside Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest as one of cinema’s most enduring treatments of Christianity and its discontents.

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Saturday September 29 at 7pm (uncensored DCP)
Sunday October 7 at 5pm

The Silence (Tystnaden)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Ingrid Thulin, Gunnel Lindblom, Jörgen Lindström
Sweden 1963, DCP/35mm, b/w, 95 min. Swedish and Latin with English subtitles

“Words in a foreign language,” the dictum that graces the final moments of The Silence, is in some ways the emblematic slogan of Bergman’s oeuvre. Ambiguously scrawled on a notepad in one character’s attempt to impart a message to another, it’s the haunting capper on a film that crystallizes one of Bergman’s foundational concerns: the impossibility for two people to ever truly connect with one another. The Silence is an enigmatic tone poem that explores variations on this theme, following Ester and her young son Johan to a remote, war-torn Central European town whose local dialect is not comprehended by the characters and is left unsubtitled for the viewer. An old, nearly vacant hotel—evidently an influence on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining—plays host to the meandering non sequiturs that comprise the film’s plotless sequence of events, which involve Anna’s tortured inability to connect with her sister Anna and Johan’s nightmarish solo adventures. Hostility, loneliness, pain and indifference are all minor gradations of an enveloping bleakness here, and Bergman sustains the mood with a bouquet of mesmerizing chiaroscuro images, each an arcane clue in an overarching cinematic riddle.

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Saturday September 29 at 9pm

The Passion of Anna (En passion)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson, Max von Sydow
Sweden 1969, 35mm, color & b/w, 101 min. Swedish with English subtitles

Capping an informal trilogy initiated by Shame and Hour of the Wolf, the often overlooked The Passion of Anna also represents a primal culmination of Bergman’s most creatively fertile decade of filmmaking. Like the prior two features, The Passion of Anna dramatizes the breakdown of a romantic relationship as exacerbated by a variety of external forces: an unseen animal killer terrorizing a small Swedish island community, intimations of the suffering wrought by the Vietnam War, and a neighboring couple with their own lingering tensions. Max von Sydow and Liv Ullmann again embody the sparring central duo, while Erland Josephson and Bibi Andersson play their only peers, an embittered photographer and his unhappy wife. Less a straightforward narrative than a free-associative chain of grievances, infidelities and physical altercations, the film accentuates Bergman’s audiovisual intuition over his theatrical proficiency, offering expressionistic splashes of deep red, violently suggestive parallel edits and delirious swings from quick-cut ferocity to contemplative quiet. It’s one of the most dynamic stylistic displays of Bergman’s career, which operates in contrast to the emotional fragility at the film’s core. Print courtesy Park Circus.

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Sunday September 30 at 1pm

Fanny and Alexander

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Gunn Wållgren, Allan Edwall, Ewa Fröling
Sweden/West Germany/France 1982, DCP, color, 312 min. Swedish, German, Yiddish, English and French with English subtitles

Christmas is the among the most paradoxical of holidays: it’s an occasion for family, feasting and camaraderie that takes place during the darkest and coldest part of the calendar year, and its life-affirming origin story has only been eclipsed by the strange folklore that has developed around the holiday in the intervening centuries. Few films in the history of cinema have synthesized all these conflicting qualities quite as beautifully as Fanny and Alexander, the first half of which presents a sensually rapturous vision of a yuletide gathering in Uppsala, where a young Alexander wards off premature hallucinations of mortality in a cocoon of tinsel and singalongs. The merrymaking, however, gradually yields to darkness and instability following a death in the family, forcing the titular siblings into the ascetic mansion of their mother’s new disciplinarian husband and, by extension, a prolonged confrontation with the cruel machinations of the world beyond their cozy childhood home. One of Bergman’s lushest, most emotionally varied films, Fanny and Alexander is a dreamlike coming-of-age tale that doesn’t so much expose despair beneath warm, familiar surfaces as suggest the inextricable intertwining of the two. DCP courtesy Janus Films.

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Monday October 1 at 7pm

Wild Strawberries
(Smultronstället)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin
Sweden 1957, 35mm, b/w, 92 min. Swedish and Latin with English subtitles

Bergman’s most popular film alongside The Seventh Seal similarly packages troubling existential questions within a tightly structured narrative, offering charming, lighthearted passages for almost long enough to make one forget the morbid realities that undergird its story. Master silent film director Victor Sjöström is brilliantly cast as Dr. Borg, a chilly, antisocial medical professor whose long life has been defined by empty rationality and faded social connections, all of which has gained him a lousy reputation he fears he will carry to his death. Dr. Borg takes along his daughter-in-law on a cross-country road trip to receive an honorary degree, and the passing landscape stirs in him a flurry of childhood memories that Bergman interweaves seamlessly into the present moment. Wild Strawberries’ blend of a linear narrative with flashbacks and Bunuelian dream sequences was perceived as exotic and audacious upon release, but now the film plays as one of Bergman’s sturdiest and most straightforwardly earnest pieces of storytelling. Print courtesy Janus Films.

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Wednesday October 3 – Brattle Theatre: SUMMER INTERLUDE


Thursday October 4 – Brattle Theatre: TORMENT


Friday October 5 – Brattle Theatre: THE SEVENTH SEAL


Friday October 5 at 9:15pm

Autumn Sonata (Höstsonaten)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Lena Nyman
France/West Germany/Sweden/UK 1978, 35mm, color, 93 min. Swedish and English with English subtitles

Shot during Bergman’s self-exile from Sweden, Autumn Sonata trades the rocky, windswept coastlines of much of the director’s output for the verdant alpine climes of Norway, where Eva (Liv Ullmann) lives in a cottage with her kindly husband Viktor (Halvar Björk) and disabled sister Helena (Lena Nyman). To this quiet abode comes Eva’s mother, Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman), an internationally successful concert pianist who at first delights with her arrival after a seven-year absence, but whose history of inadequacies as a parent resurfaces gradually over a series of soulful mother-daughter heart-to-hearts. A fiercely intimate two-hander with the tense silence of Cries and Whispers but bathed in its own unique autumnal glow, the film was Bergman’s first and only collaboration with cinema’s other monumental Bergman, who had to unlearn her classical techniques to meet the demands of her director’s unsparing, close-up-heavy naturalism. Whatever the challenges of their trial run, however, the result, surely elevated by Ullmann’s typically self-sacrificing co-starring turn, is one of the great final performances in film history, an emotional exorcism that casts the star’s faded glamour in a devastating light. Print courtesy Janus Films.

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Saturday October 6 – Brattle Theatre: THE SEVENTH SEAL


Saturday October 6 at 7pm

Through a Glass Darkly
(Såsom i en spegel)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow
Sweden 1961, 35mm, b/w, 91 min. Swedish with English subtitles

The nearly unbroken daylight of the Swedish summer is exploited to haunting effect in Through a Glass Darkly, a family drama staged in a purgatorial overcast. Inaugurating Bergman’s faith trilogy, the film dives into the complex relationships between a schizophrenic woman, Karin (Harriet Andersson, in her signature performance for the director), her ineffectual husband (Max von Sydow), emotionally barren father (Gunnar Björnstrand), and newly pubescent brother (Lars Passgard), all of whom convene for a summer vacation at a ramshackle cottage on a rocky coastline. No one can comprehend or adequately deal with Karin’s disease, and so in spite of their efforts to enjoy their time together, matters quickly turn for the worse, with Karin’s anxious episodes stirring the latent discomforts and resentments of her company. In this spare chamber piece, shot in a gloomy chiaroscuro style that evokes Carl Theodor Dreyer and set to snatches of Bach at his most desolate, Bergman confronts issues of mental illness, incest and the silence of a possibly malignant God with a clarity and bluntness then unprecedented in his career, finding in the film’s compressed timeline and confined location a form with which to combat a consuming period of depression.

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Saturday October 6 at 9pm

Winter Light (Nattvardsgästerna)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand, Gunnel Lindblom
Sweden 1962, 35mm, b/w, 80 min. Swedish with English subtitles

The stark, pared-down style that defines Bergman’s Faith Trilogy reaches its apex in Winter Light, a film whose persistent chilliness is a direct outgrowth of the inner life of its protagonist, a Lutheran pastor, Tomas, in the midst of a crisis of faith. Ill and nearly friendless, Tomas preaches to his measly congregation with a distinct lack of passion, all while warding off the advances of a lonely schoolteacher and struggling to console his suffering devotees. In reflecting this dreary midwinter existence, Bergman, working closely with Sven Nykvist, removes any and all flourishes from his visual language, responding to Tomas’ paralyzing numbness by leeching the film of the sensual pleasures of camera movement and musical score. The film is defined by long shots in unglamorous light, and key moments (such as the suicide of Tomas’ fellow depressive in icy rapids) are seen only from a detached perspective that mimics the inaction of a silent God. That it all leads to one of the most vicious verbal assaults in Bergman’s output should come as no surprise, but the weighty grimness of Winter Light is also enveloping, qualifying it to stand alongside Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest as one of cinema’s most enduring treatments of Christianity and its discontents.

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Sunday October 7 – Brattle Theatre: SAWDUST AND TINSEL


Sunday October 7 – Brattle Theatre: SUMMER WITH MONIKA


Sunday October 7 at 7pm

Cries and Whispers
(Viskningar och rop)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Harriet Andersson, Kari Sylwan, Ingrid Thulin
Sweden 1973, 35mm, color, 91 min. Swedish, German and Danish with English subtitles

Liv Ullmann, Harriet Andersson and Ingrid Thulin deliver a trio of career-highlight performances as repressed upper-class siblings in this abstracted chamber drama, one of Bergman’s most representative and celebrated of films. After opening on a brief series of ghostly establishing shots outside the sisters’ rural estate, Cries and Whispers plunges without reprieve into the deathly-quiet interior of the manor, which, with its blood-red walls and cavernous rooms, might as well be the core of the human heart. Inside, Andersson’s Agnes endures the final days of a debilitating cancer while her sisters and housekeeper (Kari Sylwan, in a performance as indelible as those of her seasoned peers) anxiously fend off the inevitable. Unfolding in soul-baring extreme close-ups against a soundscape of hushed breathing, ticking clocks and eerie room tone, the film proceeds under a spell of agonized languor in which the tiniest nuances in performance generate tectonic shifts in feeling and mood. Clearly the work of a fully matured director in confident command of his particular language, Cries and Whispers remains a film of remarkable emotional intimacy and confrontational power. Print courtesy Janus Films.

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Monday October 8 – Brattle Theatre: SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT


Tuesday October 9 – Brattle Theatre: PRISON


Tuesday October 9 – Brattle Theatre: THIRST


Wednesday October 10 – Brattle Theatre: SECRETS OF WOMEN


Wednesday October 10 – Brattle Theatre: DREAMS


Sunday October 14 at 4pm

From the Life of Marionettes
(Aus dem Leben der Marionetten)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. With Robert Atzorn, Martin Benrath, Christine Buchegger
West Germany/Sweden 1980, 35mm, color & b/w, 104 min. German with English subtitles

Two minor characters from Scenes from a Marriage—the combative married couple Katarina and Peter Egermann—receive expanded attention in Bergman’s 1980 TV drama From the Life of the Marionettes, a film that nevertheless departs in significant ways from the earlier work. Whereas the shift to the small screen prompted a new, unadorned approach to shooting and storytelling in the 1977 series, here Bergman reprises several strategies developed in earlier films. While tracing the lead-up to a heinous crime shown in the film’s prologue, Bergman toggles between reality and dream, past and present, and color and black-and-white (evoking The Passion of Anna) across an episodic, chapter-based narrative structure that recalls The Rite. As Peter’s depression leads to increasingly destructive and dangerous thoughts, and Katarina combats her husband’s detachment with fits of animosity, Bergman bears witness to the marital collapse, identifying with Peter’s untreated neuroses while reserving his contempt only for the string of dispassionate psychoanalysts who attempt to compartmentalize Peter’s fractured psyche. A daring study of the tyranny of transgressive thought, From the Life of the Marionettes is elevated by a degree of chiaroscuro craftsmanship that more than compensates for the film’s clearly limited production resources.