Ingmar Bergman is one of most important directors in Film History. His films explore the angst and doubt inherent in the human experience like few other filmmakers. Bergman’s muse, lover, longtime friend and collaborator, Liv Ullmann starred in nine Bergman movies, from Persona (1966) to Saraband (2003). She frequently worked opposite either Max von Sydow or Erland Josephson, men who critics and film historians say are stand-ins for Bergman himself. Asked which actor best represented Bergman, Ullmann said:
”I’ll tell you who it was: It was me.”
”He saw that I recognized something about him in Persona, although I couldn’t verbalize it. It was a difficult time in his life. I knew I was him, and he didn’t want to talk, because talk was wasted. He wanted to listen, was watching people and he was listening. I knew I was him. And other movies that I did, I knew I got lines that were not made for a woman, but which he allowed a woman to be a man’s voice. I might have taken parts from Max and Erland, actually!”
Bergman and Ullmann had one of the great director-actor relationships of all time. Ullmann was a major presence on the art house circuit during the 1960s and 1970s, a Golden Age of European Filmmaking, receiving two Academy Award nominations; for Jan Troell‘s The Emigrants (1971) and Bergman’s Face To Face (1976), and two BAFTA Award nominations for Scenes From A Marriage (1973) and Face To Face, along with a more mixed success in mainstream films during her ten years in Hollywood: Lost Horizon (1973), A Bridge Too Far (1977), and The Rose Garden (1989), among others.
Ullmann and Bergman famously became a couple for a few years. Ullmann was 25-years-old when she first met Bergman, who was a 46-years-old married man at the time. After their breakup, the friendship deepened, and they remained close until his passing in 2007 at 89-years-old; leaving this world at his home on the island of Fårö on the same day another renowned film director, Michelangelo Antonioni, also died.
Ullmann directed two of Bergman’s screenplays Private Confessions (1996) and Faithless (2000), and in 2014, she directed a screen adaptation of August Strindberg‘s Miss Julie, starring Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton, currently streaming on Netflix.
Toward the end of Bergman’s life, they communicated mostly by telephone and letters, but Ullmann says she was with him on the day he died:
”I was in Norway when I knew he was not well anymore, and I just felt I had to go and see him, I just felt it one day. It was the first and only time I hired a private plane. We couldn’t talk, but I could hold his hand and I thanked him for so many things, and then in the last movie we did, which was Saraband, my character goes to visit her ex-husband in a hospital, and he says: ‘Why did you come?’ and she says: ‘You called for me’. So, I thought because here was the actor and here was the director, I thought maybe he’d like that. So, I said, ‘You wonder why I came. I came because you called for me’.”
I can think of three Bergman films that have characters that are queer, either subliminally or explicitly. In Persona, Elisabet (Ullmann) is an actor who has suffered a nervous breakdown. She is cared for by a nurse, Alma, played by Bibi Andersson. They become intensely intimate. They become so close that Alma essentially replaces Elisabet. In Face To Face, Ullmann plays Dr. Jenny Isaksson who has it bad for another doctor played by Erland Josephson, but he is into other guys. Sadly, Dr. Jenny suffers a breakdown, because that’s what you do in a Bergman flick. The Life Of Marionettes (1980) concerns the crumbling relationship of Katarina and Peter Egermann the couple from Bergman’s earlier Scenes From A Marriage. Peter’s shrink suggests that he is probably gay, while at the same time, Katarina’s friend Tim is open about his own same-sex desires. It is all very angsty.
Ullmann has said that she liked watching The Apprentice. or, rather, she liked it when Trump would go in and out of rooms. Ullmann:
”I find it tremendously interesting, his entrances and exits. I can’t believe someone is doing this and taking it so seriously! If you made a movie about such a man, you would tell them they were overacting.”