“We never understood how big he was”

The Swedish film world has been paying its tributes to film director Ingmar Bergman, who died on Monday at the age of 89.

“It feels empty. This was not so unexpected, but it feels gloomy,” said veteran Swedish film critic Nils Petter Sundgren.

Sundgren said Bergman had meant “an enormous amount” to Swedish film.

“For me he is, alongside Strindberg, the greatest Swedish dramatic artist.”

“Many people in Sweden have found it hard to comprehend how big he is in the rest of the work. But he is the only Swedish artist they ask about, and there is a word, ‘ Bergmanesque’, which means a state of lacking cheerfulness. If you become an adjective, you’ve become great.”

Marie Nyeröd, who made a 2004 series of documentaries detailing Bergman’s life and work on the island of Färö, said that Bergman’s lifelong fear of death eased in old age.

“He was also convinced that he would be reunited after death with his last wife, Ingrid von Rosen. I hope that’s what he’s done. And it was best that he died peacefully in his sleep at home.”

The director never really recovered from a hip operation last October, Nyeröd said. She argues that he was Sweden’s greatest-ever cultural export.

“I don’t think we’ve really understood how big he was abroad. When I showed my documentaries abroad, in Russia, Argentina and Brazil, I noticed that it is true that he is bigger in other countries than he is in Sweden. People come up to touch me simply because I have sat close to him, as if I could pass on some of his charisma.”

Mikael Persbrandt, one of Sweden’s leading younger actors, said meeting Bergman was decisive when he choose his career.

“I often turn my mind back to my first meeting with Ingmar Bergman, when I had a bit-part in King Lear, a meeting which in many ways was behind my choice of career. I can see before me all his fantastic film faces. The magic of which he was a master still has me in its grip. There is a great sense of loss,” he said.

The Swedish Film Institute has invited people to sign a book of condolences at Filmhuset in Stockholm.

“This is a day of sorrow in the world of film. One of the world’s most prominent filmmakers is gone,” said Cissi Elwin, CEO of the Swedish Film Institute.

“Film in Sweden without Ingmar Bergman is almost unthinkable. For more than half a century he has led us into his own cinematic landscape – and forced us to confront ourselves.

“He has relentlessly asked the most important questions about being human and pointed out our vulnerability, our smallness, but also our greatness. The films are some kind of comfort. Ingmar Bergman has left us, but his films will live on – long, long after he himself is gone,” said Elwin.