Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Olivier Assayas, Daniel Bergman, Judith Bergman, Ingmar Bergman Jr., Stig Björkman, Jean-Claude Carrière, Gaby Dohm, Julia Dufvenius, Katinka Faragó, Mia Hansen-Løve, Jan Holmberg, Johannes Kaetzler, Gunnel Lindblom, Ruben Östlund, Rita Russek, Carlos Saura, Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel, Liv Ullmann, Margarethe von Trotta
Written by: Margarethe von Trotta, Felix Moeller
Directed by: Margarethe von Trotta, Felix Moeller, Bettina Böhler
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: German, English, Swedish, French, Spanish, with English subtitles
Running Time: 99
Date: 11/30/2018
IMDB

Searching for Ingmar Bergman (2018)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Through the Past Darkly

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

If you love cinema, then you must love Ingmar Bergman, and this documentary will justify your love. If you're new to cinema, or don't yet know (or don't like) Bergman, then maybe this documentary will help you get over that. As one interviewee states, Bergman's films can seem daunting, full of misery and depression; and sometimes that's true (let's be honest here... he was great, but he still had his lame ducks). But actually watching his films, the good ones, is a different experience. They're absorbing, transfixing.

In Searching for Ingmar Bergman, director Margarethe von Trotta interviews the folks that knew him, worked with him, or perhaps just fans, and tries to find the ties between the films and the filmmaker. She is qualified for the job because, for a film festival tribute in 1994 he selected a list of the 11 films that meant the most to him, and among them was von Trotta's Marianne and Juliane (1981); high praise indeed. (The other ten were: Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev, Charlie Chaplin's The Circus, Andrzej Wajda's The Conductor, Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc, Victor Sjöström's The Phantom Carriage, Marcel Carné's Port of Shadows, Bo Wilderberg's Raven's End, Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon, Federico Fellini's La Strada, and Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard.)

The documentary, which opens in San Francisco at the legendary Roxie Cinema, spends time with each of its subjects, not interested in creating a staccato rhythm, but in simply listening to what each interviewee has to say. Actress Liv Ullmann is here, of course, but so is Julia Dufvenius, the young co-star of Bergman's final feature Saraband. Filmmakers like Olivier Assayas, Ruben Östlund, Carlos Saura, Jean-Claude Carrière, and Mia Hansen-Løve (the latter of whom is currently making a feature on the island where Bergman lived) discuss their affinity for the great filmmaker. And Bergman's children talk about what a terrible father he was, but perhaps appreciating the things he was able to pass on. The doc also briefly mentions a tax scandal Bergman suffered in the 1970s, without fully explaining it.

Searching for Ingmar Bergman does supply some clips, though not exactly a treasure trove. On the one hand, these would have interrupted the flow of the long interviews, but on the other hand, clips can sometimes be a valuable highlighter to words. Additionally, some of the clips -- and some of the interviewees -- are not identified at all, or often enough. But the movie does feature quite a bit of revealing footage of Bergman himself, notably from the behind-the-scenes documentary of Fanny and Alexander, which is included on the Criterion Collection Blu-ray box set. The conclusion was that he was more like a child than a grownup. In the end, von Trotta closes with images of a young boy sneaking into a cinema and taking a seat, and then shots of herself pondering life or death near a striking rock outcropping on a beach. It's as appropriate as any a way to end a documentary on Bergman, who strove to capture the "human condition" and just might have pulled it off.

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