Ingmar Bergman dies at age 89

Monday, July 30, 2007

Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), Swedish stage and film director, during the production of Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället) (1957).
Image: AB Svensk Filmindustri.

Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, a filmmaker widely regarded as one of the great masters of modern cinema, died today at his home on Fårö, Gotland, Sweden. He was 89. The exact cause of death is not known.

"It's an unbelievable loss for Sweden, but even more so internationally," Astrid Söderbergh Widding, president of The Ingmar Bergman Foundation, told Associated Press.

"This is an enormous loss, not only for artistic Sweden but because he was one of the most well-known Swedes in the world," Jon Asp, a spokesperson for the Ingmar Bergman Foundation, said in a telephone interview with Bloomberg. "Had it not been for his struggles in the 40s and 50s, Swedish directors such as Jan Troell and Bo Widerberg may not have been able to make films."

"He was one of the world's biggest personalities. There were Kurosawa, Fellini and then Bergman. Now he is also gone," Danish director Bille August said to Associated Press. "It is a great loss. I am in shock."

Hungarian director István Szabó told MTI: "The Bergman films are to viewers like the novels of a great novelist, the poems of a great poet or the works of a great drama writer ... He valued contact with the audience very much and the story which can be told to them, while he did not attribute a great value to stories which can only be understood by snobs and highly qualified aesthetes."


Born Ernst Ingmar Bergman in 1918 in Uppsala, Sweden to a Lutheran minister of Danish descent, Bergman grew up surrounded by religious imagery and discussion. He had a strict upbringing and went through two five-month stretches of mandatory military service. He attended Stockholm High School and Stockholm University, without completing his degree in literature and art. He instead became interested in theatre and later in film.

Despite his devout upbringing, Bergman said that he lost his faith at age eight but did not come to terms with this until later in his filmmaking career.

Since the early sixties Bergman lived much of his life on the island of Fårö, where he made a number of his films. In 2004 he said he would never again leave the island.

He was married five times and had nine children.


Although Bergman was universally famous for his contribution to cinema, he was an active and productive stage director all his life, and was manager and director of a number of the most prestigious theatres in Sweden.

As a director, Bergman favored intuition over intellect, and chose to be unaggressive in dealing with actors. Bergman saw himself as having a great responsibility toward them, viewing them as collaborators often in a psychologically vulnerable position. He stated that a director must be both honest and supportive in order to allow others their best work.

His films usually deal with existential questions of mortality, loneliness, and faith; they also tend to be direct and not overtly stylized. Persona, one of Bergman's most famous films, is unusual among Bergman's work in being both existentialist and avant-garde.

Bergman usually wrote his own scripts, 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 exact dialogue.

Selected filmography

Ingmar Bergman, who made over 50 films, rarely watched them. "I don't watch my own films very often. I become so jittery and ready to cry ... and miserable. I think it's awful," Bergman said.


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