Regarded by many as one of the three or four most brilliant directors of the 20th century, Ingmar Bergman radically altered the nature and meaning of the motion-picture form, transfiguring a medium long devoted to spectacle into an art capable of profoundly personal meditations into the myriad struggles facing the psyche and the soul. Born Ernst Ingmar Bergman on July 14, 1918, in Uppsala, Sweden, he followed a brief 1938 military stay by attending Stockholm University. While there, he staged his first plays, among them adaptations of Macbeth, August Strindberg's Lucky Peter's Journey and Master Olaf, and Maurice Maeterlinck's The Blue Bird. In 1939, Bergman accepted the job of production assistant at the Royal Theatre (the Stockholm Opera), leaving school the following year to focus on stage work. By early 1943, he had begun work at the script department of Svensk Filmindustri, with his original screenplay for Hets (Torment) filmed by leading director Alf Sjöberg the following year. While remaining active in the theater, Bergman also continued his work in the film industry, and in the summer of 1945 he began directing his debut feature, Kris (Crisis), an adaptation of a drama by Leck Fischer. His next four films -- 1946's Det Regnar på Vår Kärlek (It Rains on Our Love), 1947's Skepp till Indialand (A Ship Bound for India), and 1948's Musik i Mörker (Night Is My Future), and Hamnstad (Port of Call) -- were all adaptations as well, although Bergman continued crafting original screenplays. In a sense, Bergman's career began in earnest with 1949's Fängelse (The Devil's Wanton), his first true auteur work. In addition to directing his own original script, the feature also marked the introduction of a number of Bergman hallmarks including his patented emotional complexity, a fascination with the dynamics of marriage, and a willingness to experiment with the motion-picture form and structure. Törst (Three Strange Loves), based on a screenplay by Herbert Grevenius, followed in 1949, but within months Bergman was filming Till Glädje (To Joy), another original effort again exploring a disintegrating marriage. In 1950, Bergman began shooting Sommarlek (Summer Interlude), his breakthrough effort. Told extensively through flashback, the film hones in on a number of the themes which would continue to recur throughout his oeuvre, including the loss of artistic identity, the demise of love, and the slow decay of life, all explored with a newfound confidence and grace. The political thriller Sånt Händer Inte Här (This Can't Happen Here) soon followed. Upon returning to work in 1952, he filmed the relatively lightweight Kvinnors Väntan (Secrets of Women) before turning to 1953's Sommaren med Monika (Summer with Monika). With 1953's Gycklarnas Afton (Sawdust and Tinsel/The Naked Night), Bergman made his next significant leap. His first period piece, the film was his bleakest work to date, drawing from the breadth of his major influences (particularly 1930s French films and silent German cinema) to create a newly mature and distinctive visual sensibility. The sense of freedom so dominant throughout Gycklarnas Afton remained for 1954's farcical En Lektion i Kärlek (A Lesson in Love). After 1955's Kvinnodröm, Bergman created his next masterpiece, the intricate romantic comedy Sommarnattens Leende (Smiles of a Summer Night). Having hit his stride, Bergman began work on one of his most famed efforts, 1957's Det Sjunde Inseglet (The Seventh Seal). The film which brought him international renown, it marked a turning point away from the romantic explorations of his earlier work toward an examination of the relationships of man to God and death, a theme which remained at the center of his work for many years to come.
Bergman's obsession with death continued in 1957's brilliant Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries), starring Victor Sjöström as an aging professor reminiscing about the disappointments which tainted his life. After the somewh