“Unsere Beziehung zu anderen Menschen bestehen vor allem darin dass wir über Charakter und Verhalten anderer reden und urteilen. Das führte bei mir zu einem freiwilligen Rückzug…aus praktisch jeglichem so genannten sozialen Umgang. Aufgrund dessen bin ich nun im Alter etwas einsam geworden. Zeit meines Lebens waren meine Tage von harter Arbeit geprägt. Dafür bin ich sehr dankbar. Was als Sorge um das tägliche Brot begann…endete in einer Leidenschaft für die Wissenschaft”.
Thus begins “Wild Strawberries”, considered to be one of Ingmar Bergman´s most important films, who just recently passed away at the age of 89. Destiny wanted that on the very same day – the 29th of July 2007 – we also lose another of the greatest filmmakers ever, Michelangelo Antonioni at the age of 94. They both shared the view that a movie isn´t merely that, but an art form of it´s own right.
“Wild Strawberries” is a classical within the whole of Bergman´s work. In it we can find the existential themes that would occupy him throughout his fairly 20 masterpieces, such as tortured characters, in particular women, a love for great dramatic roles and admiration for Strindberg, a research into the meaning of life and death and men´s spiritual worries and religious aspirations. Furthermore, his films speak of the lack of communication between people and our relation to childhood and memory.
For the role of Isak Borg, the actor Victor Sjöström won the American critique award just two months before of his own death. In “Wild Strawberries” Victor Sjöström plays a Doctor about to receive his Doctor Degree for his long life´s commitment to Medicine. He dreams about his own death and a strange number of events follow. As a result of the shock of such disturbing dreams and of finding that others see him as a selfish and an extremely cold person, he is led to rethink his long life´s values and his relationship to others – including his son. This revision will lead him to his childhood´s memories, a lost love, the film ending with the happy vision of his parents by a river on a summer day. Bergman won the Golden Lion at Berlin´s Festival for “Wild Strawberries” in 1958.
But, of all Bergman´s films I saw so far, the one that most impressed me was “Persona” (1966). Making extensive use of close-ups, Bergman explores the concept of the mask, as inspiration redraw both from theater and as theorized by Jung, as something that is not fixed but adapts according to and as a defense for social and cultural circumstances. “Persona” explores, even in a claustrophobic way, Liv Ullman´s and Bibi Anderson´s faces, as the film radically puts identity into question. The plot shows how their characters come to look more alike up to a point where they exchange and even become mixed identities. It is a film with and about women, showing how their relationship of dependency escalates to madness.
Talking about tortured characters and whenever speaking of Bergman and his universe I cannot help thinking about Woody Allen, who has declared Bergman to be his favorite director and greatest influence. This is specially obvious in “Interiors” (1978) – one of my favorite Woody Allen movies.
Eve, a severe mother and cold wife, obsessed with order and discipline, with a love for the distanced neoclassic aesthetics, always dressing in monochrome and never letting her hair loose, refuses to accept the fact her husband wants to divorce her. “Interiors” is a family drama, depicted around Eve and her refusal to comprehend her husband´s decision. He is choosing life against death, exchanging her for her opposite, for a woman who is instead a force of nature and dresses in red, thus introducing the only warm color into the whole film.
Eve is a bittered woman, incapable of love, with no spirit in her. She is the image of her work as an interior designer; distanced, colorless, orderly, motionless as a marble statue in a museum. And exactly because she is unable to integrate or understand change, her severity can only bring her to suicide. She is not made for life! As a last statement of her iron will and mirroring her unbreakable character, she walks towards the ocean and drowns herself, just like that!
Eve is the most unbelievable female character I´ve came across with, her coldness and empty heart finds a parallel in another very interesting example, Erika Kohut character – brilliantly interpreted by Isabelle Huppert – in “The Piano Teacher” (2001, Michael Hanecke). Erika commits self-injury, stabbing herself in the heart, after believing she has betrayed her own moral principles by letting herself feel desire.
Indeed, tortured characters, and specially tortured women, people incapable of love, were exactly one of Bergman´s classical topics. They´ve allowed him the most fascinating exploration of people´s psychological manifolds, no wonder that some might view Bergman as the director of demons. I would say he is the director of humankind!