Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Searching for Ingmar Bergman: Von Trotta Remembers the Great Auteur

The hard truth is there simply are no filmmakers still around of the same generation and stature as Ingmar Bergman. Magarethe von Trotta might be as close as we can get. He helmed his first film nearly thirty years before von Trotta’s directorial debut, but he offered her considerable personal and professional encouragement over the years. Von Trotta takes stock of Bergman’s Bergmanesque life and his remarkable body of work, giving special attention to his Munich years in Searching for Ingmar Bergman (trailer here), “co-directed” by Felix Moeller (her son) & Bettina Böhler, which opens this Friday in New York.

Any mention of Bergman is likely to mind his muse and lover, Liv Ulmann, who soon appears for a sit-down with von Trotta (they rather appear to be old friends). Although none of Bergman’s contemporaries are left, von Trotta talks with several of the accomplished actresses, who graced his films, including Julia Dufvenius, who starred in his final film, Saraband, from 2003.

Bergman’s sensitive handing of his ensembles, particularly actresses becomes one of von Trotta’s primary themes, along with his neurotic insecurity and anxiety that bordered on depression. However, that was all part of his artistic temperament, which Bergman chose to embrace. Von Trotta also gleans some insights from younger filmmakers, such as Ruben Östland, Mia Hansen-Løve, and Olivier Assayas (who probably has the most thoughtful perspective to offer).

Of course, there are generous clips from Bergman’s films as well. We see quite a bit of The Seventh Seal and The Hour of the Wolf, which makes sense, since they boast some of the starkest, most iconic imagery of his entire oeuvre. Not surprisingly, This Can’t Happen Here, his disowned spy thriller, is sadly overlooked again, but so is Smiles of a Summer Night. Alas, that is the problem with having so many masterworks to your credit.

In many ways, Searching is a safe and conventional docu-tribute, but von Trotta’s credibility and relationship with Bergman clearly opened a lot of doors, literally. Many of her interview segments consist of relaxed chats over coffee at her colleagues’ flats. That lowkey, amiable vibe serves the film quite well. She does not duck awkward subjects, including Bergman’s extensive and complicated family, but she does not dwell on them either. Nicely balanced and arguably more engaging than Dheeraj Akolkar’s Liv& Ingmar, Searching for Ingmar Bergman is recommended for cineastes and Bergman admirers when it opens this Friday (11/2) in New York, at the Quad Cinema.