Utpal Borpujari

September 22, 2008

Bergman’s voice, through a friend

By Utpal Borpujari


Bergmanesque. This is the term Gunnar Bergdahl uses to describe films and filmmakers inspired by the late Ingmar Bergman’s cinematic genius. Bergdahl, a film critic-turned-filmmaker and also director of the Goteborg Film Festival, can take the liberty of coining this new term, thanks to his proximity with the Swedish master.


Bergdahl knows there are legions of filmmakers worldwide who would fit this criterion, and also that it is quite impossible to even reach remotely close to his range and style.


“The best Bergman film might not have been made by Bergman,” says Bergdahl tongue in cheek! He can afford to do so, thanks to his close friendship with the master director, with whom he spent long hours discussing all things about his cinema, and the reasons behind his cinema.


Some of these conversations were even recorded for a documentary by Bergdahl, and the resultant Voice of Bergman and Ingmar Bergman: Intermezzo have now emerged as a compendium of the master’s thoughts, giving a peek into the thought process that led to some path-breaking films like Persona, Wild Strawberries, Through a Glass Darkly, Autumn Sonata, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Virgin Spring and many more.


Bergdahl, who let Bergman speak his mind freely and just relied on his words and no visuals from any of his films to make his documentaries, was recently in India to be part of a Bergman festival coinciding with the release of a set of DVDs of the master’s films by Palador Pictures. Quite naturally, he provides a peek into the maestro’s mind.


“He was the one who believed in pushing limits. He did not believe in short cuts or cared for public response. That’s why his films never immediately paid back, but over the years they have been watched by so many people it is unimaginable,” says Bergdahl, who rates Bergman’s Persona is one of the greatest films ever.


“It might not have done well when it was released, but it is one of the most seen films ever worldwide now. Film schools all over the world watch it to the study the techniques used, the style of storytelling. It is probably much more successful that many commercial films of that era,” says Bergdahl, differentiating between the immediate money spinners and immortal classics.


“Bergman’s cinema has inspired and influenced filmmakers and audiences all over the world. No wonder, at the 50th edition of Cannes film festival, when Cannes Golden Palm award winners were asked to select someone for the Golden Palm of Golden Palm honour, they selected him, he says.



Bergdahl’s documentaries on Bergman, one of which has been included as a bonus in the Bergman DVD set by Palador, were, however, did not require much pain to make, unlike the usual toil and sweat documentary filmmaking involves.


“It was shot in a single day and there was virtually no research required – and I just let him speak. I was lucky to have been liked by him, which made things easier,” says Bergdahl, whose had earlier persuaded Bergman to become the chairman of the Goteborg Film Festival – “with the condition that he would never visit the festival!”


Founder chief editor of Filmkonst, a prominent Swedish magazine, Bergdahl’s friendship with Bergman started when he approached him to write the foreword for a book. “He asked me to interview me and then write the text, and he was very pleased with the result,” reminisces Bergdahl.


“And the interview for the documentary was virtually a coup as he had by then become a recluse to a great extent. He spoke about cinema, literature and many other things,” says Bergdahl, who has also made a film on a Ukrainian widow during the Chernobyl disaster, titled The Voice of Ljudmila, with the lead actress Lena Andrea leaving Bergman highly impressed when he saw the film.

(An abridged version of this article was published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, 29-08-2008)

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