Directed by Marie Nyreröd
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1anamorphic
Running Time: 83 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo Swedish
MSRP: $ 19.95
Release Date: June 16, 2009
Review Date: June 5, 2009
In 2003, filmmaker Marie Nyreröd was granted almost exclusive access to renowned Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, at the time living in solitude on the island of Fårö. She spent months interviewing him and eventually came to understand much about his life and work. She put together from her filmed interviews a series of three one-hour documentaries which were to be shown on Swedish television. After their great success, many different distributors and film festivals clamored to show two of the three segments (they weren’t particularly interested in the program dealing with his directorial career in the theater). So, she sat down and edited her three episodes into an 83 ½-minute feature documentary entitled Bergman Island. Bergman later watched it and gave it his blessing.
The documentary is something of a memory piece. Bergman’s photo albums offered opportunities for him to reminisce about his parents (unsentimentally; their relationship to their son was at best ambivalent and oftentimes indifferent), and these memories in turn offer opportunities to segue into clips from some of Bergman’s masterpieces often based on his own life. We hear Bergman describe some early memories of childhood only to find ourselves within Fanny & Alexander with the latter character under the piano in his living room letting his imagination run free. Hearing him describe the painful experience of informing his then-wife of his having fallen in love with another woman takes us directly to a similar scene in Scenes from a Marriage. Memories of problems with his crew on his first film and his being straightened out by the great actor-director Victor Sjostrom take us to another masterpiece Wild Strawberries made many years later but demonstrating the love and respect the director had for the more experienced artist. Bergman’s extreme fear of death in early middle age takes us to his film made during that period of his life: The Seventh Seal.
And the many other great films parade across the screen in front of us: Persona, Through a Glass Darkly, Cries and Whispers, The Magic Flute, Saraband, Smiles of a Summer Night. The clips are superbly chosen to mirror the thoughts and feelings of Bergman’s conversation, but they serve only to whet our appetites for the entire films. We also get a tour of his beautiful island home, some lingering glimpses of home movies showing a progression of beautiful women he either wedded or lived with including his beloved wife of twenty-four years Ingrid, his openly candid confession in his lapses as a father of nine children, and a discussion of his demons.
The documentary is not all-consuming. There are many films that go unmentioned and many experiences of his life that aren’t commented upon. But what’s here is illuminating as Bergman, at the time only a few years from death, seems content with his accomplishments and happy with what life had given him. It’s a beautiful tribute to one of the world’s acknowledged cinematic geniuses, and is a wonderful addition to the scholarship on this masterful director.
The film is framed at 1.77:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. The then present-day shots are all sharp and clear, but the clips from various films run the gamut from sharp and pristine to soft and smeared and sometimes unappealing. The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 11 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound puts voices in the center channel and music and ambient sounds on the left and right. It’s a solid but unobtrusive mix which is pretty much what one might expect from a documentary.
“Bergman 101” is Peter Cowie’s 35 ½-minute video essay on Bergman’s life and career and makes a superb companion piece for Nyreyöd’s documentary (though they occasionally do cover some of the same ground and use the same clips). Cowie uses a combination of film stills, behind-the-scenes photographs, and film clips to cover Bergman’s career back to his earliest films (which aren’t much covered in Bergman Island) up until his final work for television Saraband. It’s presented in anamorphic widescreen.
An insert card contains a brief essay called “Bergman and I” written by director Marie Nyreröd which gives background information on the filmmaker’s experiences with the director before, during, and after the making of this documentary.
Both Bergman Island and “Bergman 101” are available on the recent two-disc Criterion release of The Seventh Seal and its Blu-ray counterpart. If one has the earlier 1999 release of The Seventh Seal and isn’t interested in upgrading, he can add these two documentaries to his Bergman collection for a reasonable price. They are both well worth seeing and come most definitely recommended.