Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman dies at 89

Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman has died, local media reported Monday. He was 89 years old.

Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, an iconoclastic filmmaker widely regarded as one of the great masters of modern cinema, died Monday, local media reported. He was 89.

Bergman died at his home in Faro, Sweden, Swedish news agency TT said, citing his daughter Eva Bergman. A cause of death was not immediately available.

Ingmar Bergman, seen here in 2000, died at his home in Faro, Sweden. ((Expressen Pressens Bild / Jonte Wentzell / Associated Press))

"His work is immortal. I hope that his legacy will be preserved for a long time and that it will be built on," Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said in a statement released Monday.

Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell, who is married to Bergman's daughter Eva, describedthe director's death as "happy and peaceful."

"I saw him last week, and he was already on his way then," Mankell told the internet paper aftonbladet.se. "Bergman was a complicated person, who survived thanks to his creativity."

Through more than 50 films, Bergman's vision encompassed all the extremes of his beloved Sweden: the claustrophobic gloom of unending winter nights, the gentle merriment of glowing summer evenings and the bleak magnificence of the island where he spent his last years.

SELECTED FILMOGRAPHY
Saraband (2003)
Fanny and Alexander (1982)
Autumn Sonata (1978)
Face to Face (1976)
Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
Cries and Whispers (1972)
The Passion of Anna (1969)
Persona (1966)
Winter Light (1961)
Through A Glass Darkly (1961)
The Virgin Spring (1960)
The Face (1958)
Wild Strawberries (1957)
The Seventh Seal (1957)
Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Source: IMDb

Three of his films captured Academy Awards for best foreign film: The Virgin Spring (1961), Through a Glass Darkly (1962) and Fanny and Alexander in 1984. The director was also handed the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award at the Academy Awards in 1971.

Besides many awards from the New York Film Critics and other such organizations, Bergman was honoured by his own country in 1977 with the Swedish Academy of Letters' Great Gold Medal — making him one of only 17 people to have received it in the 20th century.

Bergman, who approached difficult subjects such as plague and madness with inventive technique and carefully honed writing, became one of the towering figures of serious filmmaking.

Director Woody Allen, a great admirer of Bergman, hailed him Monday as "the greatest film artist of my lifetime."

"He told me that he was afraid that he would die on a very, very sunny day," Allen said."I can only hope it was overcast and he got the weather he wanted."

Michael Apted, head of the Directors Guild of America, who awarded Bergman a lifetime honour in 1990, said Bergman had created "beautiful, complex and smart films that imprinted permanently into the psyche."

Bergman first gained international attention with 1955's Smiles of a Summer Night, a romantic comedy that inspired the Stephen Sondheim musical A Little Night Music.

The Seventh Seal, released in 1957, riveted critics and audiences. An allegorical tale of the medieval Black Plague years, it contains one of cinema's most famous scenes of a knight playing chess with the shrouded figure of Death.

"I was terribly scared of death," Bergman said of his state of mind when making the film, which was nominated for an Academy Award in the best picture category.

In a 2004 interview with Swedish broadcaster SVT, the reclusive filmmaker acknowledged that he was reluctant to view his work.

"I don't watch my own films very often. I become so jittery and ready to cry … and miserable. I think it's awful," Bergman said.

Acclaimed stage director

Though best known internationally for his films, Bergman also was a prominent stage director. He worked at several playhouses in Sweden from the mid-1940s, including the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm, which he headed from 1963 to 1966. He staged many plays by the Swedish author August Strindberg, whom he cited as an inspiration.

The influence of Strindberg's gruelling and precise psychological dissections could be seen in the production that brought Bergman an even-wider audience: 1973's Scenes From a Marriage. First produced as a six-part series for television, then released in a theatre version, it is an intense detailing of the disintegration of a marriage.

Bergman, left, and actress Liv Ullmann are seen here in February 1968. He worked with Ullman on several films and fathered a child with her. ((Associated Press))

Bergman showed his lighter side in the following year's The Magic Flute, again first produced for TV. It is a fairly straight production of the Mozart opera, enlivened by touches such as repeatedly showing the face of a young girl watching the opera and comically clumsy props and costumes.

Bergman remained active later in life with stage productions and occasional TV shows. He said he still felt a need to direct, although he had no plans to make another feature film.

In the fall of 2002, Bergman, at age 84, started production on Saraband, a 120-minute television movie based on the two main characters in Scenes From a Marriage.

In a rare news conference, the reclusive director said he wrote the story after realizing he was "pregnant with a play."

"At first I felt sick, very sick. It was strange. Like Abraham and Sarah, who suddenly realized she was pregnant," he said, referring to biblical characters. "It was lots of fun, suddenly to feel this urge returning."

Strictupbringing

The son of a Lutheran clergyman and a housewife, Ernst Ingmar Bergman was born in Uppsala on July 14, 1918, and grew up with a brother and sister in a household of severe discipline that he described in painful detail in the autobiography The Magic Lantern.

The title comes from his childhood, when his brother got a "magic lantern," a precursor of the slide-projector, for Christmas. Ingmar was consumed with jealousy and he managed to acquire the object of his desire by trading it for 100 tin soldiers.

The apparatus was a spot of joy in an often-cruel young life. Bergman recounted the horror of being locked in a closet and the humiliation of being made to wear a skirt as punishment for wetting his pants.

Bergman, right, is seen during the shooting of the movie Fanny and Alexander in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1982. ((Associated Press))

He broke with his parents at 19 and remained aloof from them, but later in life sought to understand them. The story of their lives was told in the television film Sunday's Child, directed by his own son Daniel.

Young Ingmar found his love for drama production early in life. The director said he had coped with the authoritarian environment of his childhood by living in a world of fantasies. When he first saw a movie he was greatly moved.

"Sixty years have passed, nothing has changed, it's still the same fever," he wrote of his passion for film in the 1987 autobiography.

But he said the escape into another world went so far that it took him years to tell reality from fantasy, and Bergman repeatedly described his life as a constant fight against demons, also reflected in his work.

The demons sometimes drove him to great art as in Cries and Whispers, the deathbed drama that climaxes when the dying woman cries "I am dead, but I can't leave you." Sometimes they drove him over the top, as in Hour of the Wolf, where a nightmare-plagued artist meets real-life demons on a lonely island.

Bergman also waged a fight against real-life tormentors: Sweden's powerful tax authorities.

Tax exile in Germany

In 1976, during a rehearsal at the Royal Dramatic Theater, police came to take Bergman away for interrogation about tax evasion. The director, who had left all finances to be handled by a lawyer, was questioned for hours while his home was searched. When released, he was forbidden to leave the country.

The case caused an enormous uproar in the media and Bergman had a mental breakdown that sent him to hospital for more than a month. He later was absolved of all accusations and in the end only had to pay some extra taxes.

In his autobiography, he admitted to guilt in only one aspect: "I signed papers that I didn't read, even less understood."

Bergman had a run-in with Swedish tax authorities during the 1970s and lived in Germany for nine years. ((Associated Press))

The experience made him go into voluntary exile in Germany, to the embarrassment of the Swedish authorities. After nine years, he returned to Stockholm, his longtime base.

It was in the Swedish capital that Bergman broke into the world of drama, starting with a menial job at the Royal Opera House after dropping out of college.

Bergman was hired by the script department of Swedish Film Industry, the country's main production company, as an assistant script writer in 1942.

In 1944, his first original screenplay was filmed by Alf Sjoeberg, the dominant Swedish film director of the time. Torment won several awards including the Grand Prize of the 1946 Cannes Film Festival, and soon Bergman was directing an average of two films a year as well as working with stage production.

After the acclaimed The Seventh Seal, he quickly came up with another success in Wild Strawberries, in which an elderly professor's car trip to pick up an award is interspersed with dreams.

Other noted films include Persona, about an actress and her nurse whose identities seem to merge, and The Autumn Sonata, about a concert pianist and her two daughters, one severely handicapped and the other burdened by her child's drowning.

Bergman married five times and had at least nine children but also fathered others out of wedlock, including one with actress Liv Ullman.

The date of the funeral has not yet been set, but will be attended by a close group of friends and family, the TT news agency reported.