Culture / Entertainment

Genius Director Given a 100 Year Birthday Party to Remember by MFAH

A Marathon Month of Movies Await

BY // 08.21.18

So many of the images are haunting, seminal, original, and eternal. Once one sees Isak Borg’s beatific smile at the end of Wild Strawberries, life is forever changed. Beholding Death in The Seventh Seal is both frightening and illuminating; the Knight is all of us, and our mortality comes suddenly into view. Liv Ullmann and Bibi Andersson’s wholly convincing and remarkable interplay in Persona, Ingrid Bergman’s steely portrayal of a concert pianist in Autumn Sonata (her final film role), and, of course, the inimitable Max von Sydow (the Knight and other iconic Bergman-directed roles) — these films and performances have long been enshrined as moving art.

Ingmar Bergman, the genius behind them all, would have turned 100 this year, and to celebrate, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is screening a selection of his work from August 24 through September 23. Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema: A Centennial will include the films mentioned above, as well as Secrets of Women, CrisisCries and Whispers, and other works (Bergman Island among them).

I remember vividly the first time I saw a Bergman film — it was Wild Strawberries — and the dialogue and action reverberate still. I went on to watch everything the Swedish master directed, multiple times, and I never tire of a Bergman screening. The films are, put simply, worthy of study, admiration, and respect. (Note: Fanny and Alexander, one of my favorites, is not part of MFAH’s program, but you need to see it if you haven’t.)

This retrospective is a perfect way to get your Bergman fix. Take a look at the screenings below and mark your calendars accordingly.

Kris (Crisis) (Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1946, Sweden, 93 min.) 


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*Introduced by Astrid Marklund, Honorary Consul General of Sweden in Houston 

Friday, August 24 at 7 pm

In Ingmar Bergman’s feature-directing debut, urban beauty-shop proprietress Miss Jenny arrives in an idyllic rural town one morning to whisk away her 18-year-old daughter, Nelly, whom she abandoned as a child, from the loving woman who has raised her. Once in Stockholm, Nelly receives a crash course in adult corruption and wrenching heartbreak. 

Sommarlek (Summer Interlude) (Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1951, Sweden, 96 min.) 

Friday, August 24 at 8:45 pm 

Touching on many themes that would define the rest of his career — isolation, performance, the inescapability of the past — Ingmar Bergman’s 10th film, Sommarlek (Summer Interlude), marks a gentle drift toward true mastery. Maj-Britt Nilsson beguiles as an accomplished ballet dancer haunted by her tragic youthful affair with a shy, handsome student (Birger Malmsten). Her memories of the sunny, rocky shores of Stockholm’s outer archipelago mingle with scenes from her gloomy present at the theater where she works. 

Kvinnors väntan (Secrets of Women) (Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1952, Sweden, 109 min.) 

Saturday, August 25 at 7 pm

While at a summer house awaiting their husbands’ return, three sisters-in-law recount stories from their respective marriages. Rakel (Anita Björk) tells of receiving a visit from a former lover (Jarl Kulle); Marta (Maj-Britt Nilsson), of agreeing to marry a painter (Birger Malmsten) only after having his child; and Karin (Eva Dahlbeck), of being stuck with her husband (Gunnar Björnstrand) in an elevator, where they talk intimately for the first time in years.

Driven by dexterous flashbacks, the engaging film is a veritable seedbed of perennial Bergman themes, ranging from aspiring young love to the fear of loneliness, with the finale a masterpiece of chamber comedy. 

Gycklarnas afton (Sawdust and Tinsel) (Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1953, Sweden, 92 min.) 

Sunday, August 26, 2018, at 5 pm 

Ingmar Bergman presents the battle of the sexes as a ramshackle, grotesque carnival in one of his most vivid early works. A story of the charged relationship between a turn-of-the-century traveling circus owner (Ake Grönberg) and his performer girlfriend (Harriet Andersson), Gycklarnas afton (Sawdust and Tinsel) features dreamlike detours and twisted, psychosexual power plays. 

Sommaren med Monika (Summer with Monika) (Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1953, Sweden, 96 min.) 

Sunday, August 26 at 7 pm 

Inspired by the earthy eroticism of Harriet Andersson, in the first of her many roles for him, Ingmar Bergman had a major international breakthrough with this sensual and ultimately ravaging tale of young love. A girl (Andersson) and boy (Lars Ekborg) from working-class families in Stockholm run away from home to spend a secluded, romantic summer at the beach, far from parents and responsibilities. Inevitably, it is not long before the pair are forced to return to reality. 

En lektion i kärlek (A Lesson in Love) (Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1954, Sweden, 96 min.) 

Friday, August 31 at 7 pm 

One of Ingmar Bergman’s most satisfying marital comedies, En lektion i kärlek (A Lesson in Love) stars the droll and sparkling duo of Eva Dahlbeck and Gunnar Björnstrand as Marianne and David Erneman, a couple deep into their married years and seeking fresh pastures. David, a gynecologist, falls for one of his patients (Yvonne Lombard), while Marianne flounces off to Copenhagen to renew her fling with a sculptor (Åke Grönberg). 

Sommarnattens leende (Smiles of a Summer Night) (Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1955, Sweden, 108 min.) 

Saturday, September 1 at 7 pm 

The 1955 comedy Sommarnattens leende (Smiles of a Summer Night) ushered in an international audience for Ingmar Bergman. In turn-of-the-century Sweden, four men and four women attempt to navigate the laws of attraction. During a weekend in the country, the women collude to force the men’s hands in matters of the heart, exposing their pretensions and insecurities along the way. Chock-full of flirtatious propositions and sharp witticisms delivered by such Swedish screen legends as Gunnar Björnstrand and Harriet Andersson, this film is one of cinema’s great erotic comedies. 

Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries) (Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1957, Sweden, 92 min.) 

* Introduced by Monika Inger Hallqvist, advisor to the Consulate General of 

Sweden in Houston 

Sunday, September 2 at 5 pm 

Traveling to accept an honorary degree, Professor Isak Borg — masterfully played by veteran filmmaker Victor Sjöström — is forced to face his past, come to terms with his faults, and make peace with the inevitability of his approaching death. Through flashbacks and fantasies, dreams and nightmares, this film dramatizes one man’s remarkable voyage of self-discovery. A richly humane masterpiece, Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries) is a treasure from the golden age of art-house cinema and one of the films that catapulted Ingmar Bergman to international acclaim. 

Persona (Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1966, Sweden, 83 min.) 

Friday, September 14, at 7 pm 

By the mid-1960s, Ingmar Bergman had already conjured many of the cinema’s most unforgettable images. But with the radical Persona, this supreme artist attained new levels of visual poetry. In the first of a series of legendary performances, Liv Ullmann plays a stage actor who has inexplicably gone mute; an equally mesmerizing Bibi Andersson is the garrulous young nurse caring for her in a remote island cottage. While isolated together there, the women perform a mysterious spiritual and emotional transference that would prove to be one of cinema’s most influential creations.

Acted with astonishing nuance and shot in stark contrast and soft light, Persona is a penetrating, dreamlike work of profound psychological depth. 

Viskningar och rop (Cries and Whispers) (Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1972, Sweden, 91 min.) 

Saturday, September 15 at 7 pm 

This existential wail of a drama from Ingmar Bergman concerns two sisters, Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and Maria (Liv Ullmann), keeping vigil for a third, Agnes (Harriet Andersson), who is dying of cancer and can find solace only in the arms of a beatific servant (Kari Sylwan). An intensely felt film that is one of Bergman’s most striking formal experiments, Viskningar och rop (Cries and Whispers)—which won an Oscar for the extraordinary color photography of Sven Nykvist—is a powerful depiction of human behavior in the face of death, positioned on the borders between reality and nightmare, tranquility, and terror. 

Liv & Ingmar (Directed by Dheeraj Akolkar, 2012, Sweden, 83 min., in English) 

Sunday, September 16 at 3 pm 

Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman met in 1965 during the filming of Persona. Both were married, and there was a difference in age: Liv was 25, and Ingmar was 47. But none of it mattered. They lived together for five years, had a child, and made 11 films together. Now, nearly five decades later, Ingmar is gone but their bond remains. Told entirely from Liv’s point-of-view through an interview filmed at the house she shared with Bergman, Liv & Ingmar brings together excerpts from their films, still photos, behind-the-scenes footage, and personal letters to tell the tale of two great artists who were also human beings, lovers, and friends. 

Höstsonaten (Autumn Sonata) (Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1978, Sweden, 93 min.) 

Sunday, September 16, at 5 p.m. 

Höstsonaten (Autumn Sonata) was the only collaboration between cinema’s two great Bergmans: Ingmar, the iconic director, and Ingrid, the monumental star of Casablanca. The grand dame, playing an icy concert pianist, is matched beat for beat in ferocity by the filmmaker’s recurring lead Liv Ullmann, as her eldest daughter. Over the course of a day and a long, painful night that the two spend together after an extended separation, they finally confront the bitter discord of their relationship. 

Ansiktet (The Magician) (Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1958, Sweden, 101 min.) 

Saturday, September 22 at 5 pm 

Ansiktet (The Magician) is an engaging, brilliantly conceived tale of deceit from one of cinema’s premier illusionists. Max von Sydow stars as Dr. Vogler, a nineteenth-century traveling mesmerist and peddler of potions whose magic is put to the test in Stockholm by the cruel, eminently rational royal medical adviser Dr. Vergérus. The result is a diabolically clever battle of wits that’s both frightening and funny, shot in rich, gorgeously gothic black and white. 

Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring) (Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1960, Sweden, 90 min.) 

Saturday, September 22 at 7 pm 

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Jungfrukällan (The Virgin Spring) is a harrowing tale of faith, revenge, and savagery in medieval Sweden. Starring frequent Bergman collaborator and screen icon Max von Sydow, the film is both beautiful and cruel in its depiction of a world teetering between paganism and Christianity, and of one father’s need to avenge the death of a child. 

Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) (Directed by Ingmar Bergman, 1957, Sweden, 96 min.) 

Sunday, September 23, at 5 pm.

Disillusioned and exhausted after a decade of battling in the Crusades, a knight (Max von Sydow) encounters Death on a desolate beach and challenges him to a fateful game of chess. Much studied, imitated, even parodied, but never outdone, Bergman’s stunning allegory of a man’s search for meaning, Det sjunde inseglet (The Seventh Seal) was one of the benchmark foreign imports of America’s 1950s art-house heyday, pushing cinema’s boundaries and ushering in a new era of moviegoing. 

For further information, and to purchase tickets, click here.

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