Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Bergman – A Year in a Life – continued: Bergman and Women

Nära livet / So Close to Life (1958). Eva Dahlbeck, Bibi Andersson, and Ingrid Thulin as mothers-to-be. "For the contemporary audience this drama of childbirth came as a shock. Nevertheless, it was successful and won three awards in Cannes in 1958. / För dåtidens publik kom detta förlossningsdrama som något av en chock. Framgångsrik blev filmen hursomhelst och prisbelönades trefaldigt vid filmfestivalen i Cannes 1958." © Nordisk Tonefilm / Folkets Hus och Parker. Photo and caption: Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman. Please click to enlarge the image.

In Jane Magnusson's documentary film Bergman – A Year in a Life there is a tendency to insinuate that Ingmar Bergman abused women. I wish Magnusson would state this outright and examine the evidence pro and contra. I'm not sure whether she really thinks that Bergman abused women but in this year of the Me Too movement it is a lucrative insinuation to make.

I am myself a supporter of the movement. Ingmar Bergman did not participate in movements but I'm sure he would have supported the Me Too movement whole-heartedly. Real cases of abuse and harassment in society are widespread and devastating, and one should focus on them. The movement is weakened by unfounded insinuations.

Bergman was no angel. His personal life was in turbulence before the 1970s. But abuse and harassment were alien to him. His relationships were based on mutual love. His affairs with women were not particularly numerous. He had ten major relationships, all serious. He was discreet about them.

Mikael Timm who interviewed all the women for his Ingmar Bergman biography was astounded by the fact that they spoke well of Bergman and of each other. Those whom he had treated worst called back to Timm to ensure that the biographer would not speak ill of Ingmar.

Timm asked Bergman how this is possible. Ingmar laughed happily. "Look, it is more important to have a good relationship with your wife after divorce than during marriage!" With the exception of the first one, Karin Lannby, Bergman stayed in touch with everybody and learned to know their new partners.

"I am a very good friend with all my wives. We have always tried to surround ourselves with love and proofs of tenderness after divorce. When the duties and the roleplay disappear, all the attributes one once fell in love with emerge again. Then even the original feelings return and one can have extraordinarily interesting discussions of the shared life".

This is the special and perhaps unique feature in Bergman's relationship with his women.

Women were Bergman's prime inspiration. His portraits of women are among the most exciting and versatile in the history of art. He ignored stereotypes and portrayed interesting, modern, and independent Swedish women. He encouraged his actresses to grow, and many rose to greatness and spread their wings in brilliant, independent careers. It was a fruitful collaboration in many ways. Bergman never belittled women, on the contrary.

Magnusson cites a remark on sexual violence which Bergman had deleted from his manuscript for Laterna Magica. This act happened in the Karen Lannby relationship in 1940. It was a stormy one. Not only was Karen older but she was more experienced. Because Ingmar was discreet, and quick to admit his own weaknesses while not blaming others, we will never know the whole story, but evidently they were experimenting the full range of sex, including S/M.

There is a "dark side of genius" in the Bergman story. He did neglect his children, as discussed by Margarethe von Trotta in her documentary In Search of Ingmar Bergman.

P.S. 20 Aug 2018. Magnusson also insinuates that Bergman abused women by inserting nude scenes in the beginning of his career.

In fact discreet nudity was not unusual in the Nordic cinema of the 1930s, 1940s, and the 1950s. (The world changed radically in the 1960s but that's another story). Bergman was not different from the rest. In Nordic summer films young people tend to wear bathing suits, but that is realism, and it seems that such films were popular with men and women alike. There is little nudity in Bergman's early films, certainly not more than in films of other Nordic directors.

Bergman's films were good, they were exported, and their realism was abused in U.S. marketing, but that was hardly Bergman's fault. The same thing happened to Arne Mattsson. (And even to some Finnish films). "Swedish sin" was an invention of U.S. puritans.

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