Ernst Ingmar Bergman (14 July 1918 – 30 July 2007) would have been 100 today. Film-making for much of the 20th century was dominated by Bergman along with the other greats including Akira Kurosawa, Antonioni, Federico Fellini and Satyajit Ray.
In this interview, first published on Senses of Cinema, Zafar Anjum pays tribute to the auteur whose corpus of work includes such films as Smiles of a Summer Night, Wild Strawberries, Scenes from a Marriage, The Silence, and the experimental film Persona, among many others.
Can you describe your condition when you learned that Ingmar Bergman passed away?
One morning I was generally trawling the internet and chanced upon the news of Bergman’s death. It came as a shock to me. I was sad for a while as unquestionably one of the towering figures of international cinema had passed away. In Bergman’s death, we saw the end of a great era of filmmaking. Perhaps he was the last of the greatest filmmakers the humanity has ever known. I loved the way Peter Mathews described his experience on Bergman’s passing away: “Cinephiles are a superstitious lot, so the recent deaths of Ingmar Bergman and Michelangelo Antonioni within hours of each other seemed laden with portentous meaning. It was as though blind chance had certified what many of us knew in our bones: that the great, visionary enterprise of cinema is over. Henceforth there are to be no more masterpieces–uniquely luminous works describing the finest vibrations of the creator’s soul. Instead we will get (have been getting for nigh on 20 years) an industrial cinema, streamlined, impersonal, marketable and crudely derivative” (A Cinephile’s lament, Sight & Sound, October 2007).
On the other hand, I was also a little angry as the local media had largely ignored the news. Soon after, when I saw his well-written obituary in my copy of The Economist , I felt a sense of relief. At least one of the world’s most respected newspapers had chosen to pay homage to this great philosopher-filmmaker who for decades had devoted his life to the examination of the human condition, plumbing the depths of human emotion and exploring the metaphysical questions of life and death.
Clearly from your blog, you admire Bergman. Can you talk about the things you admire about his work?
As a matter of fact, I got introduced to Bergman’s work quite late in life. I was born in a nearly isolated small town in northern India where there were two or three cinema halls that showed only B-grade Bollywood fare. When I started watching films in those cinema halls (video parlours soon emerged in the 1980s), I had no idea if a different, more artistic and satisfying cinema existed beyond the Bollywood kitsch.
In my 20s, when I arrived at a university near Delhi for higher education, and joined the university’s film club, I got introduced to Hollywood and Iranian films. My perspective on cinema began to change. I also began to read about the Indian parallel cinema movement, which was in its waning phase in the 1990s and began to go to film festivals that I got introduced to the greatest filmmakers of the world. That included Bergman, among other directors.
As a lover of cinema, I generally like all kinds of films, from the epic to the noir to surreal cinema, but what I like the most, the kind of cinema that is closest to my heart is the one that talks about human relationships and explores various shades of those relationships in a microscopic way. I think Bergman did that and much more. I like his brooding, philosophical cinema, done in an aesthetic way that is simply mind-blowing.