Page 4 of 4   <      

Swedish Director Probed Darkness of Human Psyche

The idea for "Persona" came to him after seeing his friend Andersson sunning next to Ullmann, a Norwegian actress who became Bergman's companion and muse for many years. Struck by the resemblance between the two actresses, Bergman decided "it would be wonderful to write something about two people who lose their identities in each other."

Bergman made films about the apocalyptic nature of war ("Shame," 1968) and the emotional sacrifices of an artist ("Hour of the Wolf," 1968). Increasingly, he turned to the excruciating tensions of marriage, notably in "Cries and Whispers" (1972), with its harrowing scene of female self-mutilation, and "Scenes From a Marriage" (1973).

Of the second, critic Alan M. Kriegsman wrote in The Washington Post: "The truth of so much of Bergman's insight is borne out by how often you find yourself reacting or being reacted to as if you were one of the protagonists. Time and again, what appear to be avoidable traps from the vantage point of an 'outside' observer of the movie turn out to be inescapable pitfalls of one's own daily life."

Bergman wrote in his autobiography that one need only look at the womanizing husband's verbal assault of his wife as they break up in "Scenes From a Marriage" to understand how he parted from his second of five wives.

Bergman said the lowest moment of his life came Jan. 30, 1976, during rehearsals of Strindberg's "Dance of Death" at the Royal Dramatic Theatre. He was arrested on charges of income tax evasion stemming from an abandoned business deal with an Italian television company.

Three days later, Bergman reportedly suffered a nervous breakdown. The perceived harassment of an internationally regarded director embarrassed the Swedish government of Prime Minister Olof Palme, and the case was dropped that March.

Bergman went into self-imposed exile in West Germany and made what is essentially a political horror film: "The Serpent's Egg" (1978), an account of Germany's early descent into fascism that starred David Carradine as an alcoholic circus performer in Weimar Berlin.

Most critics viewed "The Serpent's Egg" as a low point in his career -- a case of seemingly endless sadism. Yet the same year, after declaring the end of his inspiration, he entered another golden phase of his career with 1978's "Autumn Sonata," a tightly knit emotional battle between mother and daughter starring Ingrid Bergman (no relation) and Ullmann.

Between films, he retreated to his home on the rain-swept, stony seascape on Faro Island and spoke of his need to live a remote existence, among the sound of waves and a ticking grandfather clock.

He called the island an ideal place to confront his daily fears about death. "The demons don't like fresh air," he said in a Swedish television documentary last year, "Bergman Island." "What they like best is if you stay in bed with cold feet."

He frequently threatened to retire, though he continued to work until recent years on scripts for movies, including Ullmann's "Faithless" (2000). His final work as writer and director was "Saraband" (2003), a made-for-television sequel to "Scenes From a Marriage" that received a U.S. theatrical release.

His marriages to Else Fisher, Ellen Lundstrom, Gun Hagberg and pianist Kabi Laretei ended in divorce. His fifth wife, Ingrid Karlebo von Rosen, died in 1995.

He reportedly had nine children among his wives and other relationships, one of whom he acknowledged only in later years.

On his admitted disregard for parenting, he told the documentarians in "Bergman Island": "I had a bad conscience until I discovered that having a bad conscience about something so gravely serious as leaving your children is an affectation, a way of achieving a little suffering that can't for a moment be equal to the suffering you've caused. I haven't put an ounce of effort into my families. I never have."

<             4

© 2007 The Washington Post Company