Sunday, December 16, 2018

Anders Thunberg: Karin Lannby – Ingmar Bergmans Mata Hari (a book)

Zacharias Topelius: Fågel Blå / The Blue Bird (1866). Sagoteatern, autumn 1941. Director: Ingmar Bergman. Prinsessan Forella (Karin Lannby). Foto: Almberg & Preinitz Fotografiateljé © Almberg & Preinitz Fotografiateljé. From: Stiftelsen Ingmar Bergman.

Anders Thunberg: Karin Lannby – Ingmar Bergmans Mata Hari. 415 p. Hard cover. Illustrated. ISBN 978-91-27-11804-1. Stockholm: Natur & Kultur, 2009
    The book is out of print, but Jörn Donner generously let me read his copy.

I thank Jan Winter for recommending this book. Jan Winter's recent Dieters bok (2018), the story of his father's survival during the Holocaust, set facts straight about Ingmar Bergman's Nazi fabulations regarding his family.

Anders Thunberg's book is well researched and written. Karin Lannby (1916–2007) was an adventurous young woman in the 1930s and the 1940s, but more than half a century she lived a quiet life as Maria Bouyer with her husband Louis Bouyer, a working priest in a Paris suburb, both committed to pro bono social work.

Accounts about Karin Lannby have been full of mistakes and fabrications, most damaging of them the claim that she might have been a Gestapo agent. Thunberg has conducted vast archival research. Lannby indeed was a secret agent on two occasions: for the Spanish government during the Civil War in 1937, and for the Swedish Defence Staff (Försvarsstaben) during 1939–1945.

In both missions she infiltrated the enemy camp efficiently, and anyone who reads this book can have no doubt that all her life Lannby was a committed anti-fascist. Politically she was a leftist, joining the Clarté (the international socialist organization founded by Henri Barbusse) at 15 and the youth organization of the Swedish communist party soon after.

But in the spring 1937 in Barcelona Lannby witnessed the "civil war within the civil war" between anarchists and communists and was shocked by the Realpolitik turn in the strategy of Comintern / Stalin. That is when she started to distance herself from communists and broke away from the party.

Karin's father Gunnar died at 28 in 1919 to the Spanish flu, and Karin never learned to know him. Karin's mother Lilly Lannby was the head of the Swedish office of MGM and in that capacity escorted Greta Garbo to the U.S. She was also co-owner of Hotel Carlton in Stockholm. Already as a teenager Karin was well connected and travelled, familiar with high life, and participating with her mother on luxury cruises and trips abroad. But early on she confessed that "I don't want to belong to the leisure classes".

Karin was precocious, multi-lingual, sharp-witted, a swimmer, an equestrian, and good at school. But because she was also a radical her mother took her to a long holiday to Tenerife in 1933. Indeed, Karin Lannby was an ardent lover of Spain and the Spanish language, and in Tenerife she got acquainted with the Andalusian Romani culture, cante jondo, the ur-flamenco.

On their way back home, in Madrid, Karin heard about Federico García Lorca's wandering La Barraca theatre group, and later, in Barcelona she saw Bodas de sangre. She eloped from her mother and stayed for a year in Spain and France. Inspired by García Lorca, she wrote poems for Swedish newspapers and even published a collection, Cante jondo.

The Spanish Civil War broke in 1936, and Lannby volunteered as an interpreter and secretary at a hospital in Alcoy in red Valencia. On an intelligence mission in Biarritz Lannby disobeyed orders and wandered to Franco occupied territory in Spain where she was caught.

Karin had an eye for talent, and she attracted the attention of talented people. During the Tenerife holiday she learned to know Heinz Rühmann and Gustaf Gründgens. The agent of the Spanish government who engaged Lannby to spy in Biarritz was none other than Luis Buñuel (he calls her "Kareen" in his memoir book Mon dernier soupir).

In May 1940 Lannby met Ingmar Bergman, and they lived together for two years, until spring 1942. Lannby was important for Bergman, the first woman with whom he lived together. In Laterna magica he calls her his "blowtorch who scorched his intellectual laziness and mental inertia". And opened the bars of his sexuality. Lannby had a chance to read Laterna magica and did not like it. Lannby was the only woman in Bergman's life with whom he lost contact.

After WWII Lannby married a sailor called Rotislav Cyliakus, and she became Maria Cyliakus. He was believed to be of Ukrainian nobility and to have escaped his motherland after the revolution. In WWII he sailed on Swedish ships. He vanished for good after a year of marriage. For once Lannby had a taste of her own medicine since there was a suspicion that Cyliakus was a Soviet agent in deep cover.

In November 1948 Lannby / Maria Cyliakus took a holiday in Italy and headed to Palermo where she heard stories about the legendary outlaw Salvatore Giuliano. Disregarding warnings and prohibitions she took to the mountains and stayed with Giuliano for three days. Her interviews with the bandit were published in the world press.

Lannby never returned to Sweden. In 1950 Jean-Pierre Melville was casting Les Enfants terribles, based on the novel by Jean Cocteau. Maria Cyliakus was cast in the role of the mother.

Anders Thunberg's book is an original and thought-provoking account of the turbulent decades of the 1930s and the 1940s. We meet interesting people in early stages of their careers, including Trygve Lie, Willy Brandt, and Bruno Kreisky. Writers and artists appear in unusual contexts.

There are many Finnish connections, different from ones that are commonly known in my country. It is odd to meet Karin Lannby in Tenerife with O. W. Kuusinen's guide to Marxism as travel reading. The brothers of both Karin Lannby and Ingmar Bergman fought as volunteers in the Finnish Winter War – on the opposite side of O. W. Kuusinen, one may add.

I did not know that J. L. Runeberg's Lotta Svärd was one of the inspirations for Bertolt Brecht's Mutter Courage. Neither did I know or had forgotten that Brecht saw an early theatre production directed by Bergman (Lycko-Pers resa at Mäster Olofsgården) and had good things to say about it. Lannby loved modern drama, including García Lorca but was not convinced by Brecht's epic theatre.

Stockholm was a world capital of espionage in 1939–1945, and Thunberg's book gives us a privileged view into it. This is a world of Realpolitik and Machiavellianism which Lannby had already confronted in its brutality in Spain in 1937. She was so deeply shattered that she was taken to a mental hospital in Sweden. Interestingly, the German-minded Swedish doctors took it as a sign of her mental unbalance that she openly condemned anti-semitism during her transit through Germany.

Thunberg's account of espionage is a cool and fascinating study of what he calls a "hall of mirrors" in which many spies are double agents.

As a spy Lannby was not a civil servant but a freelancer, acting in a gray zone, reporting diligently. The documentation is massive. There was no official recognition, and when she landed in trouble (harassed, captured, jailed, interrogated) she remained on her own.

Lannby lived together with Ingmar Bergman in a one-room apartment when she was at large as a spy. Did he have no idea? Reading Thunberg's book, I can believe, like him, that he hadn't. Lannby's double life remained a secret for him. Ingmar was obsessed with his work, and with Karin as a woman. He was politically indifferent, to the point that he thought that it did not matter what happened in the war as long as he could continue working in the theatre.

Remains Karin Lannby's terrible report to the Swedish Defence Staff ("Staben") about Dieter Müller-Winter, the German Jewish refugee who stayed almost seven years with the Bergman family. From Jan Winter's book we know the true circumstances and the measures taken that Dieter could be saved. The defamatory Müller-Winter report seems out of character for Lannby, incompatible with her political views and philosemitic stance. Perhaps Ingmar's family jealousy was so extreme that it provoked Lannby to do this. Luckily the Staben was better informed.

Based on what I have read about the Finnish Security Intelligence Service in the 1930s and their reports on the first Finnish film society Projektio I have little respect for these kinds of reports.

In his book Anders Thunberg is aware of the bigger picture about what Sweden did to remain neutral in WWII, surrounded by countries occupied by Nazis (Denmark, Norway) or collaborating with them (Finland). It was not always nice.

The title of the book is misleading. Karin Lannby was not Ingmar Bergman's Mata Hari. Their relationship was romantic, passionate, and sexual, and it was a meeting of the minds on profound levels. Both were troubled, talented, literate, creative, restless souls from bourgeois backgrounds, and both were rebels against convention. Karin Lannby was a radical who played straight with the government in her intelligence missions. Ingmar Bergman was a rebel as an artist in a Bohemian way (but an absolute professional in his work).

Karin Lannby hated religion, or at least its current ecclesiastic expressions. She caused scandals by exposing the Catholic church as a key exploiter of poor peasants in Spain in the 1930s and Sicily in the 1940s. She converted to Catholicism to meet the requirements to marry her husband, a Catholic working priest. She did study in a monastery, but not in order to become a nun. I guess her life force was exceptional.

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