It’s a little surprising to discover Ingmar Bergman’s love life was filled with tribulations, as his films were often about god, death, and lofty ideas. What Liv and Ingmar accomplishes so beautifully is the humanization of Bergman, and the portrayal of him as a man confronting his own flaws in character and notions of love while simultaneously producing enthralling works of art. Liv Ullmann’s narration of her life with Bergman is raw, and delivered with the same magnetism that she utilized as an actress in Bergman’s films. Director and writer Dheeraj Akolkar interweaves excerpts from Bergman’s films, Ullmann’s autobiography Catching, footage of the pair’s work together, and intimate anecdotes to essentially create a cinematic masterpiece about two contemporary cinematic masterminds.
- Written and directed By: Dheeraj Akolkar
- Starring: Liz Ullmann
- Original Music by: Stefan Nilsson
- Cinematography by: Hallvard Braein
Liz Ullmann recounts both her five-year romantic relationship with filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, as well as their long 40 year long friendship and professional collaboration. The documentary is filmed largely on Faro Island, at the beautiful home that Ullmann and Bergman shared together. The film focuses mainly on their time as lovers as well as the 11 films they made together. Ullmann alluringly narrates both the highs and lows of their relationship, and includes events such as their withdrawals from both of their spouses, Bergman’s solitude as an artist, and her regrets in eventually leaving him.
- Liz Ullmann’s Candor: Ullmann is not “captivating for a 73-year-old widow” — she is simply captivating. It’s hard to call her review of her relationship with Bergman biased or muddled with time, because her spirit and honesty in sharing such intimate portions of her life are astounding as is. She doesn’t hesitate to reveal the darker aspects of their romantic relationship, and recalls with an unexpected humor Bergman’s fervent jealousy and freakish control over her during their five years together.
- Cinematography: Hallvard Braein’s cinematography elevates Liv and Ingmar above most documentaries; the film’s nostalgic and romantic tone is tastefully complemented by the lush cinematographic work. Braein’s meticulous photography captures Ullmann’s wistfulness, sorrow, rumination, and transcendence of time without zooming in on every tear-drop and wrinkle on her face.
- Pairing of Real Events and Past Footage: Bergman’s films are made more haunting with the knowledge that they are largely autobiographical. What this documentary provides is footage from their many films together to complement Ullmann’s memories. For every moment of rage, loneliness, and love described by Ullmann, there is corresponding footage that reminds audiences of the intricate genius and authenticity of Bergman’s films.
- For Cinephiles Only: It isn’t necessarily “bad” that the film doesn’t take much time to debrief audiences on the works and significance of Bergman as a filmmaker; it would seem redundant considering his prowess and large influence. It must be noted, however, that Akolkar doesn’t provide introductions or captions for the footage introduced throughout the film, and that much of its poignancy is enhanced with a prior knowledge of the couple. This is not to say that the film isn’t worth seeing for the uninformed viewer; for audience members walking in without any prior knowledge, the film is still a fascinating portrayal of a short-lived love story between two eccentric artists.
There are few documentaries that can so poignantly lure audiences into the lives of its subjects while also keeping you entertained the whole time. If there were ever an archetypal “feature documentary”, Liv and Ingmar would claim that title in an instant. One recommendation: if you’re unfamiliar with Bergman and/or Ullmann, a quick briefing on Wikipedia about either of them will help in appreciating this documentary.
Liv and and Ingmar is currently playing in New York and Los Angeles.