Sunday, May 27, 2018

Reading about Ansikte mot ansikte / Face to Face

Bergman och två av hans trognaste medarbetare, Liv Ullmann (Jenny Isaksson) och Erland Josephson (Tomas Jacobi), under inspelningen. Det var sjätte gången Josephson och Ullmann spelade mot varandra i en Bergman film. ///  Bergman and two of his most trusted coworkers: Liv Ullmann (Jenny Isaksson) and Erland Josephson (Tomas Jacobi) during the production. For the sixth time Josephson and Ullmann played together in a Bergman film. Foto: Arne Carlsson © AB Svensk Filmindustri. From: Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman / Ingmar Bergman Archives website. Please do click on the image to enlarge it.

Ingmar Bergman: Ansikte mot ansikte. Stockholm: Bokförlaget PAN / Norstedts, 1976.

Liv Ullmann: Forandringen, 1976. In English: Changing.
    Read in Finnish translation: Liv Ullmann: Muutos. Translated from the Norwegian by Rauno Ekholm. Helsinki: Kustannusosakeyhtiö Tammi, 1976.

Michael Tapper: Ingmar Bergman's Face to Face. New York: Wallflower Press / Columbia University Press, 2017.

Puzzled by Ingmar Bergman's Face to Face which I saw for the first time in over 35 years I stumbled upon a new book, Michael Tapper's Ingmar Bergman's Face to Face, published last year. I find it one of the best books on Bergman, immediately rising among my top favourites together with Robin Wood and Mikael Timm. (Bergman's own books are in a category of their own.)

Tapper has read everything relevant that has been published before, plus he has conducted a study of work journals and logbooks in the Bergman archives. He makes new sense of Bergman both in his private life and in his public work.

Face to Face was Bergman's most ambitious work to date, but Bergman later rated it as a failure, and so did many others. The most scathing and comprehensive set of critical reviews has been compiled by Michael Tapper in his book.

Yet Face to Face emerges as a work of unique distinction for him and the reader. Here we have multiple cases of "Yes, but... "

In this jubileum year I have more and more been thinking that the years before the fatal January of 1976 were Bergman's peak with Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage, and The Magic Flute. But Bergman never rested on his laurels. He wanted to transcend his boundaries and achieve something more, something radical, something mythical.

In Face to Face Bergman and his ensemble indeed take steps beyond the tried and true, beyond the ordinary. They start well, and they partially fail, but the endeavour is still one of the most engrossing in Bergman's oeuvre.

Tapper provides us with background information to understand both the achievement and the failure of Face to Face. Tapper makes a fruitful suggestion that it belongs to "a Djursholm trilogy" started in Reservatet / The Lie (written by Bergman and directed by Jan Molander), continuing in Scenes from a Marriage, and culminating in Face to Face.

Tapper discusses women who were key real-life models for the characters in Face to Face: Karin Lannby, Ulla Isaksson, and Marianne Höök. I understand now that I need to read Höök whom Bergman called his "sister" and who was a major inspiration for the character Jenny Isaksson, the protagonist of Face to Face (whose family name is a reference to Ulla Isaksson).

Examining Bergman's workbooks and treatments Tapper discovers significant issues deleted from Face to Face, most importantly the incest between little Jenny and her grandfather. It is not just an omission from the narrative; there is not even a hint left in the final work. Jenny's psychosis and suicide attempt would be easier to understand if we knew that by moving to the room of her childhood she returned to the site of her molestation. In the film her breakdown remains a mystery.

To coincide with the American theatrical premiere and the Swedish telepremiere of Face to Face Bergman also published the original screenplay, or actually the original treatment or screen story. The finished work differs significantly from it, but it is worth reading since Bergman was always a great writer in his own right.

Finally, tipped by Michael Tapper in his book, I read Changing, Liv Ullmann's memoirs, also from 1976, culminating in Face to Face. It was generally considered her greatest performance.

"This film moves him more than any of the ones made by him before, I believe. It is almost as if he is living it – he will be exposed when other will assess it – see it – discuss it."

I think that Bergman came to disown Face to Face because of the humiliating experiences that coincided with its release. Bergman was a good Social Democrat who knew he was innocent to the accusations of tax fraud. The tax investigations did not hurt him endlessly, but he was deeply disappointed with the behaviour of his so-called friends.

There is a powerful undercurrent of joy beneath the dark surface narratives of Scenes from a Marriage and Face to Face. That undercurrent of irresistible vitality vanished for good from Bergman's oeuvre in 1976.

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