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Roy Anker

Pilgrim Bergman

The life and films of Sweden's great director.

He's old now, largely forgotten, his work rarely seen outside a few classrooms. For a very long time, however, from the mid-1950s to the early '80s, no moviemaker anywhere commanded more attention, at least among film snoots, intellectuals, and, oddly, churchgoers, or at least the headier among them. For one, he was the master, the Man, the Swedish filmmaker whose work was prolific, stylistically bold, and always compelling, even haunting, albeit sometimes cryptic. Just about single-handedly, Ingmar Bergman exalted cinema into a searing, accessible, psycho-philosophical crucible, imbuing the medium with dead-serious intellectual and religious freight. More than that, though, especially for religious folk, what distinguished him in film after film was his painstaking (and painful) display of the death-throes of God in Western culture and, no less so, in his own dire soul. It is perhaps not too much to say that Bergman, born heavy-duty Lutheran, thrashed out for all to see both the before and the after of non-belief. After all, this is the fellow who wrote and directed films of deep-down faith angst, all riveting still, like The Seventh Seal (1957), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1963), The Passion of Anna (1969), Cries and Whispers (1972), Autumn Sonata (1978), and a dozen others of equal worth but less fame. And then, since 1982 and his most celebrated film, the strangely sentimental Fanny and Alexander, a long silence. Only very occasionally has a screenplay borne the name Ingmar Bergman, and those he has given only to trusted others. (In the meanwhile, Bergman returned to the theater to direct more than twenty plays.)

Then, at 87, surprise, along comes another Bergman film, Saraband, the whole thing, both writing and directing, done by the magician himself. Released two years ago in his native Sweden, the film returns to characters whose messy divorce and afterlife Bergman scrutinized thirty years before in the five-hour Swedish television series Scenes ...

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