Bergman – A Year in a Life (4 stars)

Bergman – A Year in a Life

Fascinating, wide-ranging documentary addressing the life and legacy of the influential director

1957 was an extraordinary year for Ingmar Bergman. He released The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, directed a television film and four plays, including a landmark, five-hour production of Peer Gynt. The pressure of the 'insanely high expectations' he placed upon himself left him with stomach ulcers and sleepless nights.

Jane Magnusson chooses that year as a jumping-off point for a fascinating, wide-ranging documentary that zigzags through time as it addresses the life and legacy of one of the most influential directors in the film cannon. Magnusson's great strength is the way she strives to counter Bergman's tendency towards self-mythologising. A 1980s television interview with his older brother Dag is shown for the first time and reveals that Dag rather than Ingmar suffered the lion's share of the abuse at the hands of their authoritarian father; it's just one illustration of the way Bergman never allowed the truth to detract from his image as a tortured artist.

Magnusson claims that Bergman's true nature is revealed through his work. She traces his obsession with death and spiritual crisis, charts a tangled love life and identifies the recurring theme in his films of an artist who has sacrificed everything, especially family and loved ones, for the pursuit of their art.

Sprinkled with extensive interview footage (including a genial encounter between Bergman and Dick Cavett), the documentary makes good use of unfamiliar archive material and boasts fresh interviews with family and close colleagues, including Liv Ullmann, Elliott Gould and Lena Endre. We could have lived without the adulatory comments from famous fans (including Barbra Streisand and John Landis) that tend towards the fatuous. Otherwise, this is a perfect primer who anyone new to Bergman, while it boasts enough fresh material to make it worthwhile for those seeking deeper insights.

Selected release from Fri 25 Jan.

Bergman: A Year in a Life

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • Sweden / Norway
  • 1h 57min
  • Directed by: Jane Magnusson

Documentary about a pivotal year in the life of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, looking at how his nature was revealed in his work. Despite some fatuous adulatory comments from famous fans, it’s a fascinating and wide-ranging film with enough fresh material to appeal to those looking to dig into Bergman’s work and life.