Nepali Times
Critical Cinema


DIRECTOR'S PERSONA: Ingmar Bergman (left) and Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann his film, Persona (1966)(below)
Swedish maestro Ingmar Bergman died this week at the age of 89, leaving behind an oeuvre of unique significance. Best known for his quaintly bleak and brooding style, Bergman's perennial exploration of the human psyche and human desires is one of the most impressive in film history. Scout around in Thamel, and you will spot some of his landmark films like Smiles of a Summer Night (1955), Wild Strawberries (1957), The Seventh Seal (1957), and Cries and Whispers (1973), must-see for any serious film buff.

Bergman started his career in the post-WWII era, flourishing remarkably in the 50s and the 60s. At a time when the world of cinema was captivated by the need to make 'realistic' films - which usually meant dealing with social issues, depicting a connection with a public environment, and shooting in real location - the metaphysical and subjective ethos of Bergman films stuck out like a thorn.

Moreover, the staginess of his films lent a contrived quality that counterpoised the established idiom of cinematic experience.

Inevitably, Bergman was a subject of tireless criticism. Over the years, he had drawn a reputation of being cultish and artsy (read pretentious and irrelevant). His critics - a lot of whom assumed a non-cinema orientation - condemned his individualist and existentialist approach as being a result of petitbourgeois apathy, and of the typical predilection of the prosperous Swedish society for things static, apolitical, and ahistorical.

One cannot deny that Bergman films rarely did well in the box-office, appealing mainly to art-houses and academia. His characters were hapless artists and writers, failing, flailing due to madness, paranoia, ennui, loneliness or senility.

Removed from social context, his films take on massive ethical dimensions and demand a doggedly universalist outlook on human emotions.

Yet it is hard to judge how mistaken Bergman's style was. Social scientists may be rankled by his persistent separation of the moral from the cultural, and of the personal from the political. But who is to say that the aesthetic pleasure one derives from this is worthless?If anything, it's just the opposite. The psychological intensity and the dramatic finesse Bergman achieved by relinquishing specificity is purely delightful to watch. Through close-ups and corporeal imageries, he created a technique that idiosyncratically suited his intentions.

Concrete objects of art and nature are present in his films, but exist only as abstract symbolism, as ideas receding behind the individualities of his characters.

Ideas and emotions, on the other hand, seem to take solid forms, as if sitting ponderously in the front. What we get in Bergman films is a reality of a wholly different quality: intuitive, introspective, intellective, and imaginative.

All great artists have pushed the boundaries of their medium, and Bergman has done the same. In spite of all the fallacies, Bergman films have contributed more to cinematic language with regards to the expression of subjective reality than many geniuses put together. Very few filmmakers narrate emotions and passions - the sap of human existence - as luminously as Bergman did. If melodramatists had learnt their craft from him, perhaps they wouldn't have such a bad name today.

The following Bergman films are available on DVD at Suwal Music and Video, Lazimpat: Persona, Crisis, To Joy, Summer Interlude, The Devil's Eye, Wild Strawberries, Shame, The Passion of Anna, The Serpent's Eye, A Lesson in Love, Port of Call, Summer with Monika. 4421522

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)