November 5, 2018

'Searching For Ingmar Bergman': A New Documentary Wants to Teach Us About the Master

Searching for Ingmar Bergman
Remember the name Ingmar Bergman.

I know this is No Film School, but a bunch of us have gone to film school, or, at least, have been reading film blogs for the better part of a decade. And in those years, it’s impossible to have lived your life without someone bringing up The Seventh Seal.

The movie is so ubiquitous amongst the filmmaking community that even The Simpsons have riffed on it.

Now, the genius behind The Seventh Seal, and many other incredibly important classical films, is getting the documentary treatment. Searching for Ingmar Bergman is a documentary directed by Margarethe von Trotta.

In a recent editorial in Movie Maker magazine, von Trotta describes how Bergman drew her to film, and why she made this documentary now.

Bergman was still an inspiration then, even if I was living in a more political environment and did a lot of so-called “political” films. But when you look at those films carefully, you’ll always find a lot of Bergman. While I didn’t try to imitate him, he became an unconscious influence on my work. Otherwise I doubt he would have chosen my film 'Marianne and Juliane' when asked by the Göteborg Film Festival to provide a list of the 10 most important films in his life. Making my latest film 'Searching for Ingmar Bergman' is like a gesture of gratitude to my master; I’m aware that I’m still a pupil in front of him. Initially I was hesitant to accept my producers’ offer to make the film because I felt that everything there was to say, write, and film about Bergman’s work has already been said, written, and filmed. That’s ultimately why I choose to insert myself into the work—my first documentary—as I embarked on a voyage to learn what other moviemakers and collaborators remember about Bergman, and to see if they’re still as in love with him as much as I am.

Von Trotta’s words got me thinking. I have never been a massive Bergman devotee, but I do find myself returning to his films from time to time. He's always been on such a pedestal, I've honestly been intimidated by his films. Like...am I cool enough to be into Bergman? 

Lots of times it’s because I think Bergman’s journey was always incredibly introspective. He wanted to know why people tick, and what made a life complete.

The Criterion Collection recently released this video essay on Bergman's dreams, and I think it poignantly details what makes the filmmaker both so fascinating, and so human.  

It’s no surprise that Bergman’s humanism made him popular with lots of filmmakers across generations, but it’s Woody Allen's fascination with Bergman that surprised me the most.

Allen, known mostly for his comedies, also likes to key into people’s deepest and darkest desires with his characters.

While Allen uses existential dread for laughs, I think he finds a kindred spirit in Bergman’s search for answers.

But don’t take my word for it, listen to Woody Allen.

Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=npHqAO3hj54

All in all, these clips make me really excited to see Searching for Ingmar Bergman. In von Trotta’s words…

I discovered Bergman the man, the father, the husband—a human being of such complexity of shadows and light, doubts and anxieties, that sometimes I felt not only admiration for him, but deep empathy.

Bergman movies always prove there’s something else beneath the surface, and it seems fitting that a Bergman documentary would uncover the same truths about the man. 

As a casual fan, I'm excited to educate myself about Bergman and finally feel cool enough to cite Fanny & Alexander among my favorite films. 

Tell us your favorite Bergman movie in the comments!      

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