Ingmar Bergman


Ernst Ingmar Bergman (IPA ) (14 July 1918 – 30 July 2007) was a nine-time Academy Award-nominated Swedish film, stage, and opera director. He depicted bleakness and despair as well as comedy and hope in his explorations of the human condition. He is recognized as one of the greatest and most influential filmmakers of modern cinema.

He directed 62 films, most of which he also wrote, and directed over 170 plays. Some of his internationally known favorite actors were Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson, and Max von Sydow. Most of his films were set in the stark landscape of his native Sweden, and major themes were often bleak, dealing with death, illness, betrayal, and insanity.

Bergman was active for more than 60 years, but his career was seriously threatened in 1976 when he suspended a number of pending productions, closed his studios, and went into self-imposed exile in Germany for eight years following a botched criminal investigation for alleged income tax evasion.


Ingmar Bergman was born in Uppsala, Sweden, to Karin (maiden name Åkerblom) Bergman and Erik Bergman, a Lutheran minister and later chaplain to the King of Sweden. He grew up surrounded by religious imagery and discussion. His father was a conservative parish minister with extreme-right political sympathies and a strict family father. Ingmar was locked up in dark closets for infractions such as wetting the bed. "While father preached away in the pulpit and the congregation prayed, sang, or listened," Ingmar wrote in his autobiography Laterna Magica,

"I devoted my interest to the church’s mysterious world of low arches, thick walls, the smell of eternity, the colored sunlight quivering above the strangest vegetation of medieval paintings and carved figures on ceilings and walls. There was everything that one’s imagination could desire — angels, saints, dragons, prophets, devils, humans."

Though he grew up in a devout Lutheran household, Bergman later stated that he lost his faith at age eight and only came to terms with this fact while making Winter Light.

Bergman's interest in theatre and film began early:

"At the age of 9, he traded a set of tin soldiers for a battered magic lantern, a possession that altered the course of his life. Within a year, he had created, by playing with this toy, a private world in which he felt completely at home, he recalled. He fashioned his own scenery, marionettes, and lighting effects and gave puppet productions of Strindberg plays in which he spoke all the parts.

In 1934, at the age of 16, Bergman was sent to spend the summer vacation with family friends in Germany. He attended a Nazi rally in Weimar at which he saw Adolf Hitler. He later wrote in his autobiography Laterna Magica about the visit to Germany, how the German family had put a portrait of Adolf Hitler on the wall by his bed, and that "for many years, I was on Hitler's side, delighted by his success and saddened by his defeats".

Bergman did two five-month stretches of mandatory military service.

In 1937 he entered Stockholm University College (later renamed to Stockholm University), to study art and literature. He spent most of his time involved in student theater and became a "genuine movie addict". At the same time a romantic involvement led to a break with his father that lasted for years. Although he did not graduate, he wrote a number of plays, as well as an opera, and became an assistant director at a theater. In 1942, he was given the chance to direct one of his own scripts, Caspar's Death. The play was seen by members of Svensk Filmindustri who then offered Bergman a position working on scripts.

In 1943 he married Else Fisher.

From the early 1960s Bergman lived much of his life on the island of Fårö, Gotland, Sweden, where he made several of his films.

Tax evasion charges and exile

1976 was one of the most traumatic years in the life of Ingmar Bergman. On 30 January 1976, while rehearsing August Strindberg's Dance of Death at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, he was arrested by two plainclothes police officers and charged with income-tax evasion. The impact of the event on Bergman was devastating. He suffered a nervous breakdown as a result of the humiliation and was hospitalized in a state of deep depression.

The investigation was focused on an alleged 1970 transaction of SEK 500,000 between Bergman's Swedish company Cinematograf and its Swiss subsidiary Persona, an entity that was mainly used for the paying of salaries to foreign actors. Bergman dissolved Persona in 1974 after having been notified by the Swedish Central Bank and subsequently reported the income. On 23 March 1976, the special prosecutor Anders Nordenadler dropped the charges against Bergman, saying that the alleged "crime" had no legal basis, comparing the case to the bringing of "charges against a person who is stealing his own car". Director General Gösta Ekman, chief of the Swedish Internal Revenue Service, defended the failed investigation, saying that the investigation was dealing with important legal material and that Bergman was treated just like any other suspect. He expressed regret that Bergman had left the country, hoping that Bergman was a "stronger" person now when the investigation had shown that he had not done anything wrong.

Even though the charges were dropped, Bergman was for a while disconsolate, fearing he would never again return to directing. Despite pleas by the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme, high public figures, and leaders of the film industry, he vowed never to work again in Sweden. He closed down his studio on the barren Baltic island of Fårö, suspended two announced film projects, and went into self-imposed exile in Munich, Germany. Harry Schein, director of the Swedish Film Institute, estimated the immediate damage caused by Bergman's exile to SEK 10 million and hundreds of jobs lost.

Return from exile

Although he continued to operate from Munich, by mid-1978, Ingmar Bergman seemed to have overcome some of his bitterness toward his motherland. In July of that year he was back in Sweden, celebrating his 60th birthday at Fårö and partly resumed his work as a director at Royal Dramatic Theater. To honor his return, the Swedish Film Institute launched a new Ingmar Bergman Prize to be awarded annually for excellence in film making.

However, he remained in Munich until 1984. In one of the last major interviews with Bergman, done in 2005 at Fårö Island, Bergman said that despite being active during the exile, he had effectively lost eight years of his professional life.

Bergman retired from film making in December 2003. He had hip surgery in October 2006 and was making a difficult recovery. He died peacefully in his sleep, at his home on Fårö, on 30 July 2007, at the age of 89, the same day that another renowned film director, Michelangelo Antonioni, also died. He was buried 18 August 2007 on the island in a private ceremony. A place in the Fårö churchyard was prepared for him under heavy secrecy. Although he was buried on the island of Fårö, his name and date of birth were inscribed under his wife's name on a tomb at Roslagsbro churchyard, Norrtälje Municipality, several years before his death,

Film work


Bergman first began working in film in 1941 rewriting scripts, but his first major accomplishment was in 1944 when he wrote the screenplay for Torment/Frenzy (Hets), a film directed by Alf Sjöberg. Along with writing the screenplay he was also given a position as assistant director to the film. In his second autobiography Images : My Life in Film, Bergman describes the filming of the exteriors as his actual film directorial debut. The international success of this film led to Bergman's first opportunity to direct a year later. During the next ten years he wrote and directed more than a dozen films including The Devil's Wanton/Prison (Fängelse) in 1949 and The Naked Night/Sawdust and Tinsel (Gycklarnas afton) in 1953.

Bergman first achieved international success with Smiles of a Summer Night (Sommarnattens leende) (1955), which won for "Best poetic humor" and was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes the following year. This was followed two years later with two of Bergman's best-known films, The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet) and Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället). The Seventh Seal won a special jury prize and was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes and Wild Strawberries won numerous awards for Bergman and its star, Victor Sjöström.

Bergman continued to be productive for the next 20 years. In the early 60's he directed a trilogy that explored the theme of faith and doubt in God, Through a Glass Darkly (Såsom i en Spegel - 1961), Winter Light (Nattvardsgasterna - 1962), and The Silence (Tystnaden - 1963). In 1966 he directed Persona, a film that he himself considered one of his most important films. While the film won few awards many consider it his masterpiece and one of the best films ever produced. Bergman himself considers this film along with Cries and Whispers (Viskningar och rop - 1972) to be his two most important films. Other notable films of the period include The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan - 1960), Hour of the Wolf (Vargtimmen - 1968), Shame (Skammen - 1968) and A Passion/The Passion of Anna (En Passion - 1969). Bergman also produced extensively for Swedish TV at this time. Two works of note were Scenes from a Marriage (Scener ur ett äktenskap - 1973) and The Magic Flute (Trollflöjten'' - 1975).

After his arrest in 1976 for tax evasion, Bergman swore he would never again make films in his native country. He shut down his film studio on the island of Faro and went into exile. He briefly considered the possibility of working in America and his next film, The Serpent's Egg (1977) was a German-American production and his first and only English language film. This was followed a year later with a British-Norwegian co-production of Autumn Sonata (Höstsonaten - 1978). The film starred Ingrid Bergman and was the one notable film of this period. The one other film he directed was From the Life of the Marionettes (Aus dem Leben der Marionetten - 1980) a British-German co-production.

In 1982, he temporarily returned to his homeland to direct Fanny and Alexander (Fanny och Alexander), a film that, unlike his previous productions, was aimed at a broader audience, but was also criticized within the profession for being shallow and commercial. Bergman stated that the film would be his last, and that afterwards he would focus on directing theatre. Since then, he wrote several film scripts and directed a number of television specials. As with previous work for TV some of these productions were later released in theatres. The last such work was Saraband (2003), a sequel to Scenes from a Marriage and directed by Bergman when he was 84 years old.

Repertory company

Bergman developed a personal "repertory company" of Swedish actors whom he repeatedly cast in his films, including Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson, Erland Josephson, Ingrid Thulin, and Gunnar Björnstrand, each of whom appeared in at least five Bergman features. Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann, who appeared in nine of Bergman's films and one TV movie (Saraband), was the last to join this group (in the 1966 film Persona), and ultimately became most closely associated with Bergman, both artistically and personally. They had a daughter together, Linn Ullmann (b. 1966).

Bergman began working with Sven Nykvist, his cinematographer, in 1953. The two of them developed and maintained a working relationship of sufficient rapport to allow Bergman not to worry about the composition of a shot until the day before it was filmed. On the morning of the shoot, he would briefly speak to Nykvist about the mood and composition he hoped for, and then leave Nykvist to work without interruption or comment until post-production discussion of the next day's work.


By Bergman's own account, he never had a problem with funding. He cited two reasons for this: one, that he did not live in the United States, which he viewed as obsessed with box-office earnings; and two, that his films tended to be low-budget affairs. (Cries and Whispers, for instance, was finished for about $450,000, while Scenes from a Marriage — a six-episode television feature — cost only $200,000.)


Bergman usually wrote his own screenplays, thinking about them for months or years before starting the actual process of writing, which he viewed as somewhat tedious. His earlier films are carefully structured, and are either based on his plays or written in collaboration with other authors. Bergman stated that in his later works, when on occasion his actors would want to do things differently from his own intentions, he would let them, noting that the results were often "disastrous" when he did not do so. As his career progressed, Bergman increasingly let his actors improvise their dialogue. In his latest films, he wrote just the ideas informing the scene and allowed his actors to determine the exact dialogue.

When viewing daily rushes, Bergman stressed the importance of being critical but unemotional, claiming that he asked himself not if the work is great or terrible, but if it is sufficient or if it needs to be reshot.


Bergman's films usually deal with existential questions of mortality, loneliness, and faith.

While his themes could be cerebral, sexual desire found its way to the foreground of most of his movies, whether the setting was a medieval plague (The Seventh Seal), upper-class family life in early 20th century Uppsala (Fanny and Alexander) or contemporary alienation (The Silence). His female characters were usually more in touch with their sexuality than their men were, and were not afraid to proclaim it, with the sometimes breathtaking overtness (e.g., Cries and Whispers) that defined the work of "the conjurer," as Bergman called himself in a 1960 Time magazine cover story. In an interview with Playboy magazine in 1964, he said: "...the manifestation of sex is very important, and particularly to me, for above all, I don't want to make merely intellectual films. I want audiences to feel, to sense my films. This to me is much more important than their understanding them." Film, Bergman said, was his demanding mistress. Some of his major actresses became his actual mistresses as his real life doubled up on his movie-making one.

Love — twisted, thwarted, unexpressed, repulsed — was the leitmotif of many of his movies, beginning, perhaps, with Winter Light, where the pastor's barren faith is contrasted with his former mistress' struggle, tinged with spite as it is, to help him find spiritual justification through human love.

Bergman's views on his career

When asked about his movies, Bergman said he held Winter Light, Persona, and Cries and Whispers in the highest regard, though in an interview in 2004, Bergman said that he was "depressed" by his own films and could not watch them anymore. In these films, he said, he managed to push the medium to its limit.

While he denounced the critical classification of three of his films (Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence) as a predetermined trilogy, saying he had no intention of connecting them and could not see any common motifs in them , this contradicts the introduction Bergman himself wrote in 1964 when he had the three scripts published in a single volume: "These three films deal with reduction. Through a Glass Darkly - conquered certainty. Winter Light - penetrated certainty. The Silence - God's silence - the negative imprint. Therefore, they constitute a trilogy". The Criterion Collection sees the films as a trilogy and has released all three on DVD as a boxed set.

Bergman had stated on numerous occasions (for example in the interview book Bergman on Bergman) that The Silence meant the end of an era when religious questions were a major concern in his films.


Many filmmakers worldwide have praised Bergman and cited his work as a major influence on their own:

Theatrical work

Although Bergman was universally famous for his contribution to cinema, he was an active and productive stage director all his life. During his studies at Stockholm University he became active in its student theatre, where he early on made a name for himself. His first work after graduation was as a trainee-director at a Stockholm theatre. At age 26 he became the youngest theater manager in Europe at the Helsingborg city theatre. He stayed at Helsingborg for 3 years and then became the director at Gothenburg city theater from 1946 to 1949.

He was the director of the Malmö city theater in 1953 and remained for seven years. Many of his star actors were people with whom he began working on stage, and a number of people in the "Bergman troupe" of his 1960s films came from Malmö's city theatre (Max von Sydow, for example). He was the director of the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm — from 1960 to 1966 and manager from 1963 to 1966.

After he left Sweden because of the tax evasion incident he was the director of the Residenz Theatre of Munich, Germany (1977-84). He remained active in theatre throughout the whole 90's and made his final production on stage with Ibsen's The Wild Duck at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in 2002.

A complete list of Bergman's work in theater can be found under "Stage Productions and Radio Theatre Credits" in the Ingmar Bergman filmography-article.

Family life

Bergman was married five times:

The first four marriages ended in divorce, while the last ended when his wife died of stomach cancer.

He was also the father of writer Linn Ullmann, with actress Liv Ullmann. In all, Bergman had nine children that he has acknowledged to be his own. He was married to all but one of the mothers of his children. His daughter with Ingrid von Rosen was born twelve years before their marriage.

In addition to his marriages, Bergman also had major relationships with Harriet Andersson 1952-55, Bibi Andersson 1955-59 and Liv Ullmann 1965-70.



Academy Awards

In 1971, Bergman received The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award at the Academy Awards ceremony. Three of his films have won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film: The Virgin Spring in 1961; Through a Glass Darkly in 1962; and Fanny and Alexander in 1984.

BAFTA Awards

Cesar Awards

Cannes Film Festival

Golden Globe Awards

See also



  • Bergman on Bergman: Interviews with Ingmar Bergman. By Stig Björkman, Torsten Manns, and Jonas Sima; Translated by Paul Britten Austin. Simon & Schuster, New York. Swedish edition copyright 1970; English translation 1973.
  • Filmmakers on filmmaking: the American Film Institute seminars on motion pictures and television (edited by Joseph McBride). Boston, Houghton Mifflin Co., 1983.
  • Images: my life in film, Ingmar Bergman, Translated by Marianne Ruuth. New York, Arcade Pub., 1994, ISBN 1-55970-186-2
  • The Magic Lantern, Ingmar Bergman, Translated by Joan Tate New York, Viking Press, 1988, ISBN 0-670-81911-5

All of Bergman's original screenplays for films directed by himself, from Through a Glass Darkly onwards — and the screenplays he has penned since the 1980s for other directors — have been published in Swedish and most of them translated into English and other languages. Some of his screenplays have also come to use in stage theatre, often without the knowledge or license of the author (e.g. Scenes from a Marriage, Smiles of a Summer Night, After the Rehearsal).

In 1968, when the Swedish film magazine Chaplin published an "anti-Bergman issue" to clear the air from the slightly suffocating presence of the genius director, who was collecting Oscars and Palmes d'Or by the handful, Bergman secretly contributed one of the more acerbic pieces, signed by "the French film critic Ernest Riffe". The word soon began to spread that he was the author himself, and though he half-heartedly denied this, in Bergman on Bergman he admits to the truth of the allegation.

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