Obituary: Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman was the master of turning tales of anguished love and loneliness into films that made him one of the leading directors of the 20th century.

Bergman, who died Monday at the age of 89, made more than 40 movies and won

three Oscars for best foreign language films during a career spanning four decades.

“The Virgin Spring” (1960), “Through a Glass Darkly” (1961) and “Fanny and Alexander” (1982) all won best foreign language film Academy Awards.

Those, along with 1957 movies “Wild Strawberries” and “The Seventh Seal” are considered classics of European art house cinema. Leading directors such as Woody Allen and Robert Altman have named Bergman as a major influence on their own work.

For many movie buffs, Bergman, who married five times and fathered nine children, was the greatest of the authorial filmmakers of the 1950s and 1960s, outranking even Federico Fellini, Luis Bunuel or Jean-Luc Godard.

In 1973, his “Scenes from a Marriage,” a six-episode television mini-series later repackaged for cinema, won him a wider audience in Europe and later in the United States. But it was filmed in his signature direct, often stark look at what critics called the internal human landscape, an approach the general movie-going public found remote.

In his native Sweden he was often accused of portraying the country as a nation of neurotics though this softened in the last decade of his life.

Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born in Uppsala, Sweden, on July 14, 1918, the second of three children.

His father Erik was a Lutheran minister who imposed a strict upbringing on his children. Family relationships influenced Bergman profoundly and were reflected in all his work.

Bergman recounted some episodes of his childhood in “Fanny and Alexander,” which won four Oscars in all and was his last major film for the cinema.

At Stockholm University, the young Bergman discovered his vocation when he chose the drama society, which put on plays by Strindberg and Shakespeare, over literature and art history classes.

He directed his first film “Crisis” in 1945 and for more than three decades produced on average a movie a year. He did not earn international acclaim until 1956 when “Smiles of a Summer Night” was shown at the Cannes Festival.

Known in Sweden mainly as a dramatist, Bergman obtained poor reviews for work that was considered dark and incomprehensible, with its focus on love, loneliness, existential angst and relations with God.

Women occupied a central role in his work. He had loved his mother intensely as a child and when a doctor advised her to put more distance in their relationship or he would be damaged for life, he felt the loss deeply.

Mother-son relationships featured prominently in his work, as did his experiences from five marriages.

He had nine children, including a daughter by actress Liv Ullmann, one of his fetish actors along with Max von Sydow, Bibi Andersson, Jarl Kulle and Ingrid Thulin who repeatedly appeared in his movies.

Bergman headed the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm from 1963 to 1966 and returned frequently to the stage to directing plays by Strindberg, Ibsen, Anouilh, Williams, Chekhov and Moliere.

Bergman made profoundly personal films following his intellectual and spiritual preoccupations and tracing his loss of faith in God.

“The Seventh Seal”, “The Virgin Spring” (1960), “Through a Glass Darkly” (1961), “Winter Light” (1963) and “The Silence” (1963) all lead progressively to a rejection of religious belief, leaving only the conviction that human life is haunted by “a virulent, active evil.”

With “Wild Strawberries”, Bergman turned increasingly to psychological dilemmas and ethical issues in human and social relations once religion proved a failure.

Other films considered among his greatest include “Persona” (1966), “Hour of the Wolf” (1968), “Shame” (1968), “The Rite” (1969), “A Passion” (1970) “Cries and Whispers” (1973) and “Face to Face” (1976).

For many years Bergman declined offers to work abroad. But in 1976, after being charged with tax evasion, he moved to Germany and worked as the director of Munich Residenz Theater.

After a six-year exile he returned to Sweden and remained until his death. Officially “retired,” he continued to work tirelessly, directing television plays, writing screenplays — such as the autobiographical saga “The Best Intentions” which reduced to three-hour film length won the 1992 Cannes Golden Palm for director Bille August — and occasionally returning as guest director at the Royal Dramatic Theatre.

After the 1995 death of Ingrid von Rosen, his wife of 25 years, he lived alone at their country home in Fårö on the island of Gotland, enjoying long walks along the beach in a lifestyle he described as “a comfortable hell.”

He soon had a new “obsession,” as he described his relationship with actress Lena Endre, for whom he wrote a new film, “Trolösa” (Faithless), directed by Liv Ullmann and released in 2000.

A film for television that he himself directed, “In the Presence of a Clown” (1998), received enthusiastic reviews in Sweden and was screened at Cannes.

Bergman said he could never decide whether the cinema or the theatre had been more important to him.

“Now I don’t have to,” he said shortly before his 80th birthday. “But if I’d had to choose 30 years ago, then I’d have dropped dead. Like a chameleon on a checkerboard.”