Through Bergman's Past, Brightly
RT Staffers Select Their Favorite Works from the Great Director
From dark allegory (The Seventh Seal) to light(er) comedy (Smiles of a Summer Night), from emotionally wrenching period drama (Sawdust and Tinsel, Cries and Whispers) to musical theater (The Magic Flute), Bergman contributed a depth of feeling and intelligence to the cinema seldom seen before. The great Swedish director confronted the mysteries of human existence head-on, and, in doing so, carved out a niche that casts a long shadow over the medium.
Bergman's work has influenced everything from The Break-Up to Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey; Wes Craven utilized The Virgin Spring as the basis for Last House on the Left, while Woody Allen and Robert Altman cited him as a key influence.
With a filmography as rich and potent as Bergman's, it's hard to know where to start. If you're a beginner to Bergman's oeuvre, here are some of our favorites.
A lyrical and sometimes surreal film about a man in the twilight of his life, Wild Strawberries explores Bergman's recurrent themes of innocent children subjected to dishonorable elders. The old man in Wild Strawberries realizes too late that he's failed to create meaningful relationships with those near to him and remembers, with some dishonesty, his often painful past.
Fanny and Alexander
A broadly autobiographical film about Bergman's own upbringing, Fanny and Alexander was made for Swedish TV and re-edited from 300 minutes down to 168 for release in American theaters. Bergman's most popular film in the states, Fanny and Alexander deals again with Bergman's issues of innocence and knowledge and displays in, sometimes depraved ways, how children don't lose their innocence so much as have it stolen from them.
-- Sara Schieron
Best known as the middle entry of Bergman's "faith trilogy," Winter Light revolves around a pastor's crisis of faith after he's unable to console one of his congregation. It's an emotionally direct film -- no dream sequences, no parlor games with Death -- and Bergman skillfully draws tension from this simplicity. The film essentially ends the same way it begins, but everything that transpires in between gives the film's final moment a shot of existential horror Bergman is legendary for.
-- Alex Vo
A deeply unsettling, hypnotic work, Persona explores the fluidity of human existence. Liv Ullman plays Elizabeth, an actress who has suffered an onstage breakdown; she refuses to speak, and is cared for by Alma (Bibi Andersson). What follows is a disquieting journey into the depths of the soul; as Alma reveals her deepest secrets to Elizabeth, she finds herself in an emotional tug-of-war with her patient. Persona is Bergman at his most formally experimental, and his obsession with the poetry of the human face is at its apex in this mysterious, rewarding film.
One of Bergman's earliest films, Monika is about the fleeting nature and naiveté of youthful passions. A free-spirited teenager named Monika (Harriet Andersson) and her reserved boyfriend Harry (Lars Ekborg) spend an idyllic summer on a remote island -- before reality and responsibility set in. Monika may lack the existential probing and Big Questions of Bergman's later films, but as an examination of the messiness of teenage emotions, it has a delicate beauty all its own.
-- Tim Ryan