Top 10 Bergman Films
(For German readers: I have covered Bergman on my German podcast "Authentisch Arrogant" last year. You can listen to it on Spotify, iTunes, Google Podcasts or anywhere else! Also, if you miss that particular show, in which I would usually recommend movies, books and music each week, you can gain exclusive access to its continuation by supporting me with 5€ a month!)
Lacking a topic for my daily blog article today, I wanted to put together my personal top 10 of films by Ingmar Bergman. To this end, I way scrolling through Letterboxd and discovered a staging of "The Bacchae" that he did. Since I love the play by Euripides and am considering directing a version of it in the theater myself this summer (at an open air theater event I might be involved with), I simply had to find out more about this work of his I had known nothing about until just now.
There is a very good recording of this opera staging on YouTube - Sadly, without subtitles, plus, since I know nothing about opera and was more interested in the original play, pretty useless to me.
The positive effect of this early morning procrastination was my discovery of the YouTube channel that had uploaded the recording. "The Bergman Channel" - Full of interviews, Behind the Scenes documentaries and complete, rare films - Most of them with subtitles!
Usually, this kind of channel disappears pretty quickly, so everyone who is interested in these kinds of things should hurry over and have a look.
And now, my Top 10:
1 - Shame / Skammen
A relationship under pressure, revealing the ugliest sides of everyone involved. Two artists trapped between abstract forces in an absurd war. Kafkaesque injustices, escalating until the protagonists break and become part of the system. In the end a tiny boat full of hopeless refugees, floating forlornly on a sea full of corpses.
I don’t think there has ever been a better movie about war. I don’t think there has ever been a better movie about failing love. Having watched this today, I’m quite sure this will be my new favorite film for years to come.
“Sometimes everything seems just like a dream. It's not my dream, it's somebody else's. But I have to participate in it. How do you think someone who dreams about us would feel when he wakes up? Ashamed?”
2 - Through a Glass Darkly
Scary, tragic, rough, elegant, monumental in its implications - That description goes for every single image of this film, as well as the complete work. Such a beautiful, simple, fragile, perfect piece of art. Clearly my favorite in the Silence of God Trilogy and a perfect movie in my book.
I hate writing about perfect movies. I can never do them justice in words. I can’t even begin to describe what this movie made me feel. I can only recommend you to watch it as soon as you can.
3 - Hour of the Wolf
Ingmar Bergman is a horror film director and this one seems to be his most explicit horror flick. Needless to say that I love it to bits and consider it an almost perfect movie.
A quiet artist with lots of dark secrets, lives isolated on an island with his young wife. He is haunted by his past and a group of creepy entities, and she starts to see them, too.
Similar to "The Virgin Spring", "Hour of the Wolf" has a strong sense of man vs. nature. Bergman really loves his barren landscapes in stark contrasts. The lighting is especially beautiful and creepy in this one.
The story is told in exactly the right pace. There is a scene depicting the murder of a child and it is so shocking, so well done, so beautiful - it will stay with you. The nightmarish dinner scene at the castle feels revolutionary as well. I could go on and on listing scenes from this, and in the end, I would have retold the whole movie. It's really, really special.
The only thing I wish would be different about "Hour of the Wolf" is, that the ghosts could have absolutely looked more interesting. Had they, and in the beginning of the movie the sketches of them, been done with the monster movie sensibilities of a Burton or a del Toro - This would have been a perfect movie, without any flaw, and absolutely timeless. As it is, it's still an unbelievably awesome masterpiece, but I kind of wish it would get a remake at some point in the near future.
4 - Winter Light
I’m on a bit of a Bergman binge right now and this one feels like the smallest of the ones I’ve seen yet. It’s still brilliant.
The whole film takes place in only one day among a very limited cast of very, very lonely characters. Our protagonist is terribly self-absorbed and harms the people around him that either need his help or want to help him, while desperately waiting for god to change the world the way he’d like it. It’s painful to watch all these people in their imagined prisons. It’s a lot of fun to watch Bergman utilize limited resources in his stage-play-like direction. Impossible not to take lots of notes in my mind as a No-Budget filmmaker, always looking for ways to make good movies under dire circumstances.
“Winter Light”, in all its hopelessness, is quite easy to watch. The 80 minute runtime flies by and there even is some occasional humor detectable.
A casual masterpiece.
5 - Wild Strawberries
A melancholic journey through the memories of an old man, as he revisits places of his youth, accompanied by a group of young people. Fantastic, philosophical dialogues and the unforgettable dream sequences make this sensitive, gentle movie about aging the timeless classic that it is.
6 - Persona
This little horror flick has a lot to answer for. As usual, when watching a beloved Bergman classic for the first time, I kept being reminded of SO MANY imitators of this one - Most of them terrible student films that honestly think of themselves as clever and innovative. Stop doing the split personality trope. Bergman did it more than 50 years ago, and not half as obvious as you're doing it - It's not just tired, it's very, very dead.
Bergman once met his ex on the street, together with a friend of hers, who, in his opinion, looked just like her, and whom he also found quite attractive. So, he made a pretty sexual art film about how they looked alike. The man sure did have moves.
"Persona" is wonderful. Creepy, intimate, inventive and a joy to watch. Just please don't try this at home. Or at uni.
7 - The Virgin Spring
"The Virgin Spring" is a gruesome, melancholic fairytale, set in beautiful, sun-flooded Scandinavian landscapes. It feels mythological yet real throughout. Stories about early Christians confronted with nature, older religions and evil often feel like stories about the struggle to lead a morally good life in a horrible world. That is certainly the case with "The Virgin Spring". Who would have thought the film that inspired the rape-revenge exploitation genre would be such a beautiful, poetic piece of filmmaking?
Ingeri was over-acting, I hate rape scenes and the one in this is no different, and it's definitely a slow moving film. But that's about all the criticisms I have for "The Virgin Spring". It's near perfect movie and more proof of Bergman's genius.
8 - The Silence
Like most Bergman films, "The Silence" is a horror film.
Sven Nykvist's fluent camera movements and the perfect choreography of every single scene lured me in quicker than I could think "This is rather dry, isn't it?". (It's not.)
The lighting is as consistently brilliant as the shot composition and it's rather obvious, what inspired Kubrick to shoot those scenes with Danny in "The Shining" the way he did.
"The Silence" made me feel hollow and lonely and sad. If you don't like a film to make you feel that way, this one is probably not for you.
It's depicting a world without warmth. Broken characters in a country at war who can not relate to each other or the alien world around them, but try to somehow simulate intimacy by having sex that is devoid of emotion or even any kind of connection.
Bewildering grown-up habits, observed through the eyes of a child. Menacing, interesting, alluring, mysterious, dream-like - I haven't seen a filmmaker capture a child's view on grown-ups this perfectly ever before.
"The Silence" offers a lot of things. Hope isn't one of them.
Severely depressing - Absolutely brilliant!
9 - The Seventh Seal
I have seen too much Monty Python and Woody Allen to completely take this seriously and that was distracting from the absolutely beautiful, deep, philosophical, creepy, moving, fantastic film that this is. But, well, many of the images presented here are just funny to me, and that's really not Bergman's fault.
Apart from that, this is a fairy tale about death and if that doesn't make you want to watch it, I don't understand you.
10 - Cries and Whispers
Cries and Whispers feels like a stage play had a love child with a classical painting.
I had a lot of fun with this one. Sure, it’s slow and depressing, but there also is some humor to be found, the characters are fleshed out and likable, everything is beautiful to look at, the acting is flawless and some interesting symbolism pops up here and there. If Lars von Trier had the capability to restrain himself, this might be what he would do.
11 - The Rite
Surprise! There's an eleventh one I need to mention!
I watched the first half of this and was kind of underwhelmed. It felt like one of those lesser Bergman films. The Bergman formula of having a small cast of depressed characters in mostly one location verbally decimate each other in stark black and white can really, really work like in his countless classics or seem kind of thrown together, not well enough thought out, a jumbled mess of leftover notes. I took a little break after the first half and then resumed watching after 20 minutes. I finished the film yelling “THAT MAGNIFICENT BASTARD! HE DID IT AGAIN!!”
Imagine Tarantino watching a lot of Bergman and then making a collage of everything he has seen. That’s “Riten”. The mythical land of “The Silence”, the general story of “The Magician”, characters (and one exact situation, played by the same actors) from “Winter Light”, some imagery from “The Seventh Seal” - In “Riten”, Bergman does Bergman. And he succeeds!
This isn’t a good starting point for anyone not familiar with Bergman’s filmography, but fans will find a lot to love here.
I would die of happiness if I could ever remake "Hour of the Wolf" or "The Rite". Those speak to me on a whole other level and are stories I'd love to re-tell, absolutely loving the originals.
An original I don't love that much is "Passion of Anna", which is part three of the Färö trilogy. Parts one and two (Hour of the Wolf and Shame) are two of my absolute favorite movies of all time, so I'd have really loved to have seen the trilogy end in a more brilliant way. This way, it seemed like Bergman simply took some notes he had already had lying around and used them as a script, unchanged. It's easy to see the shapes of what could have become a chilly thriller, but it kind of seems unfinished (and thus lives on in my mind forever, being re-shaped and re-told - Which is a brilliant feat by my hero just in itself, so maybe that's precisely what he was getting at - what do I know.)
The bottom line is: I love Bergman films. Have loved them for years, love them this morning. Always good to start the day with something inspiring and genius!