Weekend at Bergman’s: Five Great Films Directed by Ingmar Bergman

His name rings through the annals of film history, echoing through the dark infinite halls, a hauntingly recognisable title. It bounces off the walls of film and television, recurring such beautiful images as the one above in our minds, as clear and crisp as they were on the day he filmed them. This is a man who has literally created… history.

I say these words with assured clarity and certainty, but yet, I was only introduced to his films about a month ago. My friend has numerous posters in his room, more so than normal, all of them decent film posters, some of them relics. But, the king of them all, dead in the centre, is that of a film called Persona. I asked him, “what’s Persona, and why haven’t I heard of it?” He knew that I had only recently become a film fanatic, so he excused my blatant Bergman naivety, and introduced me to a whole world of classic, startling pictures that, to put it lightly, blew me away.

Since then I’ve compulsively watched every Bergman film I could find (well… borrow) and I’ve totalled a neat eight films from the black-and-white mastermaker. I know, it’s not nearly enough, but it’s a start, isn’t it?

Anyway, these are my five favourites, counting down, from this cinematic lord…

5: Fanny and Alexander (1982)

Bergman’s final film before a long string of unrecongised television movies, this whopper of a five hour masterpiece (or three hours, if you want the short version) tells the epic and disturbing tale of a brother and sister and the events that shape their life within the course of one tumultuous year. This has everything you could ever want from a Bergman movie, and is a fine example of his work and the places it has taken him. It’s nice, too, to get a movie this long that can really be described as an epic. I mean, the ninety minute movies were fine and dandy, but its great to know Bergman released a good and long pacing movie, which brings him to Lean-like status in my book. I tell a lie, he’s better than Lean, and this is one of the five that proves it.

4: The Seventh Seal (1957)

Some are undoubtedly going to disagree with the placing of this at fourth, but I must argue for it. Just because this is in fourth doesn’t mean it’s not one of my favourites. The Seventh Seal is a stunning, captivating journey in which a travelling young man (Max von Sydow, anyone?), haunted by the spectre of Death (who has long walked at his side, apparently) who attempts to journey home to his wife. Along the way he meets various people and is greeted with various sights, from pleasant to disturbing, in a quest not only for home but for answers; religious truth, a reality check, something to let him know life is not pointless. Bergman shows us many awesome sights, from the unique shot of the two mains engaged in a chess battle to one of the final stunning shots, which can be seen at the top of the page of this post.

3: Cries and Whispers (1972)

Of all the great cinematography from the legendary Sven Nykvist in the films of Bergman, it was perhaps never as shocking and striking as in Cries and Whispers. The first thing that struck me about this movie was the colour. Red. Red. RED. It is a chilling blood red that completely fills the frame in nearly every shot, and the fades to red at the end of the scenes must be some fantastic way of engulfing the viewer into the fragile and stunningly emotive world of the human soul. Bitter resentment, hatred, love and ignorance decorate the characters minds and souls as they come together to mourn the sickness and eventual death of their sister. There are countless things about this movie that make it a masterpiece, and I’m glad to be able to say that in a year dominated by The Godfather, there was an alternate offer that was equally as difficult to refuse.

2: Persona (1966)

A visual stunner with references dating to the birth of cinema and some dreamlike sequences that no doubt were an influence on David Lynch as well as beautifully delivered monologues and haunting imagery all combine to present us with a flawless and fabulous examination of humanity and existence, personalities, differences and unnoticeably obvious similarities. From its opening prologue which is undeniably one of the best, most provocative opening sequences in film, to the numerous observations of film as a whole and the casual reminders that we are watching a film, such as a flickering projector which begins to run and then stops sudden at the end. The merging personalities which decorate the film eventually turn into merging physical identities, as in the startling image of the two faces as one, a shocking reminder of the lesson the entire film teaches us: we are not as different as we think.

1: Winter Light (1963)

Of the countless Bergman films which examined religious doubt and a general loss of faith, none were as bleak or powerful as IB’s timeless classic Winter Light. A more than bite sized portion of an excellent trilogy dealing with that aforementioned theme, Winter Light tells of a pastor who has lost his faith, almost completely, and spends most of the eighty minute run time contemplating his life and everything he’s ever done for religion. Is it all in vain? Is there really a God? He just doesn’t know anymore, and for a pastor such as he, it is a sad, depressing thing to see. His “girlfriend,” a lonely and intelligent woman (Ingrid Thulin) deliveres a deeply passionate monologue through the form of an extended but not long letter that is punctuated with the fluid language of Bergman that is a wonder to behold. The pastor himself (Gunnar Bjornstrand) is warrented a much-deserved monologue as Bergman’s quiet but deadly little examination of faith draws slowly to its close. It’s not an eventful film, per se, but it emotionally speaks volumes about life, love, religion, existence and everything that ever mattered. A masterpiece.

So there you have it! My five favourites of Ingmar Bergman, so far. These are five classic movies that I highly recommend. I very nearly may have missed out on the Bergman experience, but I luckily stumbled upon a friend–and a movie–which changed everything.

I urge you to see these films, and if you already have, please leave a comment telling me what you think of my choices and reviews and… anything in general about the post.

Thanks for reading.

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About Tyler

Patient observer of all things film and music, from Béla Tarr to Boards of Canada. Foul mouthed and clinging to the edge of sanity.

Posted on April 4, 2011, in Filmmakers, Lists, Movie Reviews, Movies and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Winter Light is definitely my favorite. The spider-God monologue, specifically, maybe my favorite scene in any movie, ever. Seventh Seal is probably #2 for me… but unless you have “The Serpent and the Egg” ahead of it, I have no beefs. Choosing which Bergman film is the best or 2nd best or 4th best or whatever… is like choosing the best steak you’ve ever eaten.

    I had to laugh about the “RED” comments because you nailed it. It’s all over the place.

    Fun fact re: Persona- the whole thing came to him while he was in the hospital (don’t remember why he was there), half groggy from medication or ether or something. He felt like two distinct people in the hospital room, and yet part of one single person. And as I remember, the same experience is what led him to make Hour of the Wolf, which has a comparable theme (Von Sydow the artist = Bergman; the ghouls and demons that haunt Von Sydow = the splintered facets of Bergman’s personality).

    Anyway, glad to see you watched and enjoyed those. The man was pure genius.

  1. Pingback: Happy Birthday Ingmar Bergman! A Look Back at the Master’s Brilliant Career « Southern Vision: A Blog About Movies

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