Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Liv & Ingmar

Liv & Ingmar, the documentary, is really, as Ron Henderson says, a love letter from actor Liv Ullman to the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. It screened for the last time Monday night during the Starz Denver Film Festival.

Ullman and Bergman met in 1964 when he cast her in his film Personna – She would go on to act in ten films for him – and during the next five years they would live together in a relationship which was intimate, passionate, emotional, loving, creative and ultimately heartbreaking and anguished. The secondary title of the film reads: Painfully Connected. That describes it.

In Dheeraj Akolkar’s 75 minute documentary, Ullman returns to the house and the island where they lived during that five years and where Personna was shot, to reflect on their 42-year relationship (Bergman died in 2007). Though Ullman eventually left Bergman the bond between them was still there. They became, if anything, even better friends.

Beautifully shot in rich color by Hallvard Braein it also features archival footage and stills as well as footage from some of their films. It is poignant and insightful. The film is told from Ullman’s point of view. She is frank and open in talking about her feelings and their relationship. We only hear Bergman's words from his love letters to her.

Ullman had a daughter, Linn, by Bergman during this time but eventually it was not enough to keep them together.
They were both married to other people in that summer of 1964 (Ullman would divorce her husband) but their passion for each other drew them together.

Bergman built a house for her on the island but soon it became almost a prison. Bergman was prone to turbulent rages and psychological violence. He wanted solitude while he was writing but extended that solitude to isolating her; he built a wall around the house to keep others out and her in; he demanded that she be home at certain times and dictated which days she could leave the house. This all became too much for her to bear and, now with a child, she left.

Though the romantic relationship ended, the creative collaboration continued.
Ullman would go on to be a major Hollywood star and Bergman continued making films, some with her.

While Ullman does not speak much in the film about her daughter Linn’s relationship with her father, the relationship did exist. Bergman was very proud of her. Linn in the last years of his life spent time with him on the island.

Linn Ullman is a very successful writer and novelist. She also is co founder and former Artistic Director of the International Artist Residency Foundation at The Bergman Estate on the island.

I am a fan of both Bergman and Ullman and the films they did together. Woody Allen, also one of my favorite filmmakers, and he a fan of Bergman as well, has called him, "probably the greatest film artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera," Allen was introduced to Bergman by Ullman.

I remember when Allen’s Bergman inspired film Interiors was released in 1978, there was a hue and cry from Woody’s fans – “it isn’t funny” they complained (not unlike the reaction from Bob Dylan fans when he showed up at Newport with an electric guitar). Woody would go on to make more films in the spirit of Bergman and other European directors so that now, people speak of making ‘Woody Allenesque’ films.

It may be easy for many to focus so thoroughly on Bergman’s artistic genius and lose sight of the artistic genius of Ullman herself. Bergman called Ullman ‘his Stradivarius’ – the music from a musician on a lesser instrument would not be the same. As she has so thoroughly demonstrated, she is an actor and film artist (she directed two films which Bergman wrote, the only woman to have directed a Bergman film script).

In addition to screenings at the Starz Denver Film Festival, the film has played other film festivals, this year. It has been officially released in Norway, but to date, no US release or distribution has been announced.

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