Friday, September 28, 2012

NYFF ’12: Liv & Ingmar

They collaborated on some of the least romantic films ever (see Hour of the Wolf, for instance).  Yet, Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann became the first couple of international art cinema.  The Swedish auteur’s romance with his Norwegian muse would not last, but their relationship continued to evolve and endure.  Ullmann reflects on each stage of her career-defining association with Bergman in Dheeraj Akolkar’s Liv & Ingmar (trailer here), which screens as part of the 50th New York Film Festival’s Cinema Reflected sidebar.

What a difference a few years and a more northern latitude make.  Whereas Ingrid Bergman was pilloried for leaving her husband to take up with Roberto Rossellini, Ullmann essentially did the same thing with Bergman, but with no attendant outrage from the world press.  As she tells it, she was widely encouraged by friends to do so.  Indeed, the film is entirely presented from Ullmann’s perspective, relying almost entirely on her narration and extended interview sequences to tell their story.

Nevertheless, there is no score settling in L&I.  Even after the dissolution of their intimate cohabitation, the legends of Scandinavian cinema remained on good terms, eventually becoming the closest of friends.  There is definitely a lesson in that, especially if you think documentary crews will one day be interviewing your former lovers.  However, it might not make the most compelling viewing. 

Ullmann still offers some insight into the dark places manifested in Bergman’s films, but that is about as far as the film goes.  As a result, L&I is permeated with a fatal sense of respectability.  Granted, nobody wants or needs to see a great filmmaker like Bergman trashed by an ex.  The fact that he and Ullmann continued to mean so much to each other is quite touching and nearly the extent of the film’s takeaway.

Scenes of Ullmann revisiting Bergman’s Fårö Island home give the documentary a vivid sense of place and there are plenty of tellingly illustrative clips from their films.  L&I is quite a heartfelt tribute, but as a work of cinema in its own right it is hardly essential (though it is an interesting film to see in conjunction with Francesco Patierno’s thematically related War of the Volcanoes, also screening during this year’s NYFF).  Mostly recommended for dedicated Bergman and Ullmann admirers, Liv & Ingmar screens this coming Monday (10/1) and Tuesday the 10th during the 2012 New York Film Festival.