Bergman, a bit of everything



Commentary on the book “Lanterna Mágica”, autobiography by Ingmar Bergman.

Magic Lantern – an autobiography, focuses on the childhood and youth of Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007), the difficult relationships with his father and brothers, his seven marriages, the six years of voluntary exile after accusations that he was evading taxes surfaced, and his long dedication to to cinema and theater, evoking their masters and influences – Ibsen, Chekhov, Strindberg, Sjöberg and Molander –, the filming of wild strawberries (1957) and working with photographer Sven Nykvist and relationships with Ingrid Thulin, Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullman, Max Von Sidow, Harriet Andersson, Ingrid Bergman, Laurence Olivier and Lena Olin, just to name the best known.

Without observing any chronological order, Bergman tells of the failed attempt, when he was just 4 years old, to kill his younger sister in her crib; he recounts several episodes of an unhappy childhood, under the orders of his father, a Protestant pastor who applied severe corporal punishment to him and Dag, his brother – the hatred towards his father would only be softened in maturity; he confesses that the coldness and indifference that his mother showed him made him desperate and, in a beautiful passage, reports that, when they were little, his brother was given a small cinematograph by a rich aunt for Christmas. Ingmar, dying of envy, started screaming, but it was no use, his brother got the better of him. However, in the middle of the night, the would-be filmmaker ended up keeping the cinematograph, in exchange for tin soldiers.

In this autobiography he confesses that he failed as a husband and as a father, making his life and that of his women a real hell. In addition, she does not hide her contempt for most of her children (who are eight), and the reciprocal is true. Bergman himself once said that "every marriage, sooner or later, founders". In this sense, his marriage to Ingrid Von Rosen, who worked as the filmmaker's secretary and administrator in all projects and realizations, which took place in the 1970s, lasted about two and a half decades.

Magic Lantern devotes several pages to Bergman's fight against the Swedish government's accusation of being a tax evader, which later turned out to be unfounded. He was detained by two policemen and taken for questioning, being forced to interrupt the rehearsals of the play. Macabre Dance, by Strindberg, which took place in Stockholm (January 1976). Humiliated and unjustly accused, Bergman suffered a nervous breakdown, spending several weeks in a clinic. Dissatisfied, he published on April 22, 1976, in the Swedish and world press, a letter addressed to the country's tax authorities and left Sweden, spending a long period in exile, mainly in West Germany. He only returned in 1983, accepting the government's formal apology.

He wrote in a humorous way that “every man of the theater is superstitious (…) In recent years I have had the feeling that August Strindberg is against me. I was rehearsing 'The Stand' and the police came to arrest me. We were editing 'Miss Julia' and the protagonist went crazy. I planned to stage the same play in Stockholm and Miss Julia got pregnant… So much adversity in a chain and it can't just be the work of chance…”. And taking the humor to a high level, she clarifies that it was only after setting up an imaginary meeting with the famous Swedish writer and playwright, whom he relived so many times on stage, that things became clearer.

Bergman also details his professional career in theater and cinema, having debuted as a director at the Municipal Theater of Helsingborg (1944). At that time he had been there for some years now, employed as a script reviewer for Svensk Filmindustri, directing the first film (Crisis), in 1945. Later, he directed the Municipal Theaters of Gotebörg and Malmö and the National Theater in Stockholm. Equally interesting is following Bergman's decision to give up filmmaking and dedicate himself exclusively to theater. The decision came as the filming of Fanny and Alexander, due, essentially, to age: at 70 years old, “the physical effort required of those who make films has become, for me, increasingly incompatible with my strength”, that is, not having the physical conditions to perform a job with the perfection that has always been imposed, he prefers to retire discreetly. “I'll grab my hat and leave while I can still reach for the hanger where I left it, and walk out on my own two feet. The creative power of old age is by no means a guaranteed thing. It is something periodic, conditioned by many factors, more or less like sexuality that gradually abandons us”.

And he concludes, with a masterful touch, the reason why, at that point in his life, the theater beckoned to him in a warmer way: “When I study in detail my most recent films and stagings, I find, here and there, a thirst for perfection implying It takes a lot of life out of them. In the theater this danger is not so great because there I can watch my weaknesses and, in the worst case scenario, the actors can correct me. With a film everything is irreversible. Three minutes of film are made every day, and these short sequences have to live, breathe, already be a part of the whole that they will form”.

And in October 1988 I wrote, finishing the review, that Bergman, for everything he had already done in and for the cinema, had every right to dedicate himself only to the theater, to our bad luck. Like this, Magic Lantern constitutes an important document for understanding the films of the Swedish filmmaker and, mainly, in the sense of perceiving, through his trajectory, how life and work are organically linked – in general with a lot of anguish, existential and affective disagreements and in a constant search for happiness .

*Afranio Catani is a retired professor at USP and visiting professor at UFF. Author, among other books, of Four Essays on Brazilian Cinema (Panorama, 2004).


Ingmar Bergman. Magic Lantern: an autobiography. São Paulo, Cosac & Naify, 2013.

This article reproduces, with alterations, a review published in the extinct “Caderno de Sabado” of the Jornal da Tarde in 08.10.1988.


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