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The Great Unknown 

The minifestival "A Tribute to Ingmar Bergman" offers a chance to get acquainted with the still-living legendary director

Wednesday, Aug 18 2004
Most folks have heard the name Ingmar Bergman, but if you go around and ask them what they think of his movies -- foreign-film aficionados and Swedes aside -- they'll often give you a perplexed look. The phenomenon is reminiscent of the film Being John Malkovich, in which people keep telling the accomplished actor that they loved him in some role or another, but no one can remember which flicks he was actually in. Since his name was in the title, Malkovich is now known to everyone. But Bergman's fame seems to have waned in the United States. This week is a good time to get acquainted with the still-living legend at "A Tribute to Ingmar Bergman," a minifestival screening 10 of his boldest works.

Bergman's pictures might not be first-date material -- his is an intense brand of cinema that often delves into the nooks and not-so-nice crannies of the human psyche. A lot of his oeuvre does more than tiptoe into disturbing compartments of the cranium, and much of it also deals, unsurprisingly, with artists and their abundant anxieties. The movies are chock-full of Freudian explorations and steeped in an uncensored sensuality that was often ahead of its time.

A personal favorite is Persona (1966) -- a black-and-white film usually tagged as one of Bergman's more experimental. It's a fabulous foray into madness. An actress (played by Liv Ullmann) has something akin to a nervous breakdown onstage and is sent away to live at a doctor's beach house for the summer with a beautiful and increasingly neurotic nurse (Bibi Andersson). While the nurse spends the entire time prattling on endlessly about her past sins and inconsolable self-hatred, the patient remains completely silent, eventually driving the attendant batty. A homoerotic tension between the two mounts, but the outcome is ugly and violent.

Another haunting portrait of psychological torment is Autumn Sonata (1978), which also stars Ullmann, as well as a striking and mature Ingrid Bergman (no relation to Ingmar). Here, an aging, world-renowned pianist and her grown daughter hash out the gritty details of a loveless past, while a third family member lies deteriorating from a degenerative disease in the next room. Light fare it's not.

But if Ingmar Bergman is hardly known for his comedic prowess, many of his films contain surprising pockets of sweetness. The opening night feature, Wild Strawberries (1957), follows an old, cynical physician on a 14-hour road trip that takes him down a disquieting but often tender memory lane, bringing his long life into perspective. Fanny & Alexander (1983), the closing night film and Bergman's last major picture, is a fabulous three-hour portrait of a family torn apart and sewn together again by the forces of death, desire, and unrelenting love.

About The Author

Karen Macklin


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