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Bibi Andersson, Swedish actress and muse of Ingmar Bergman, dies at 83

Director Ingmar Bergman chats with actress Bibi Andersson in 1989. (Bjorn Elgstrand/AP)

Bibi Andersson, a Swedish actress whose portrayals of chaste schoolgirls, beguiling young women and tortured wives made her a muse and frequent collaborator of filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, most notably in “The Seventh Seal,” “Wild Strawberries” and “Persona,” died April 14 in Stockholm. She was 83.

Her death was confirmed by Jan Goransson, head of media at the Swedish Film Institute, who said she had been receiving medical treatment since suffering a stroke in 2009. Additional details were not immediately available.

Easily recognizable by her short blonde hair, button nose, slim figure and wide smile, Ms. Andersson appeared in more than 100 film and television productions through the years, often playing luminous characters whose warm demeanor masked past traumas or intense self-doubt.

Although she starred in Hollywood movies such as “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” in the 1970s, working with American directors such as John Huston (“The Kremlin Letter”) and Robert Altman (“Quintet”), she never attained the spectacular success she found in Sweden, where Goransson called her “one of the greatest stars we ever had.”

Ms. Andersson was the only performer to receive four Guldbagge Awards (the Swedish equivalent of the Oscars) for acting, and was best known for her dozen films and additional theatrical productions with Bergman, whose explorations of lust, loneliness and existential dread made him one of the 20th century’s most acclaimed filmmakers.

Bergman employed a stock company that included actresses Harriet Andersson, Eva Dahlbeck, Ingrid Thulin and Liv Ullmann, and began working with Ms. Andersson when she was 15, directing her in a commercial for Bris soap. Ms. Andersson played a princess who is introduced to the soap — its name means Breeze — by a young pig farmer, whom she thanks with 100 kisses.

In 1957, she starred in two of Bergman’s most celebrated movies: “The Seventh Seal,” as an actress and young mother who encounters a disillusioned knight from the Crusades, and “Wild Strawberries,” as two different characters — both named Sara — who catch the eye of a grouchy physician (Victor Sjostrom).

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Around that same time, Ms. Andersson also began a relationship with the director, who was then married to journalist and linguist Gun Grut. Ms. Andersson later told the New York Times that they were together for two years, during which she appeared in Bergman films such as “Brink of Life” (1958). She and her co-stars — Dahlbeck, Thulin and Barbro Hiort af Ornas — shared the best actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Her most acclaimed work, however, was “Persona,” Bergman’s 1966 study of identity, in which she played a loquacious nurse who cares for a troubled stage actress who has gone mute. Ms. Andersson co-starred with Ullmann, then a largely unknown 26-year-old actress; they had appeared together in a film, and Bergman once said that he cast them after watching the actresses talk together on a street corner.

Both looked somewhat alike, and by the end of the film their identities blended together, with their faces at one point overlapping in one of Bergman’s most famous and mysterious shots.

“It has this meaning of how people can integrate into one another and how difficult it is to stay stable when you get very influenced,” Ms. Andersson later told the London magazine Time Out. “This young woman I play didn’t know that people could be evil and vicious or difficult. She was living a much simpler life. But she got in contact with something unknown to her. It gave her a wound.”

The movie marked the beginning of a long creative partnership between Bergman and Ullmann, who supplanted Ms. Andersson as the director’s leading female collaborator and had a daughter with Bergman.

Ms. Andersson went on to appear in Swedish movies such as “The Mistress” (1962), for which she was named best actress at the Berlin International Film Festival, and “The Girls” (1968), a feminist reimagining of the ancient Greek comedy “Lysistrata,” directed by Mai Zetterling and also featuring Harriet Andersson and Gunnel Lindblom.

She was often asked about her relationship with Bergman, whom she described as “very tender and very nice” on set, and temperamental away from the camera.

“I’m not as much a medium for him as Liv,” she told the Times in 1977, referring to Ullmann. “It doesn’t bother me, until everyone asks me about it, asks how come. It’s important that I begin to rely on myself, especially because he and I aren’t so much alike.”

“When I was 20, I struggled very hard for independence, but I didn’t know enough to be independent without having this sense of competition with other women,” she added. “I was around men who were too strong. Other women were, maybe, a threat. I have changed. I see how much we can help each other.”

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Ms. Andersson — some sources list her birth name as Berit Elisabeth Andersson, others as Birgitta Andersson — was born in Stockholm on Nov. 11, 1935. She received encouragement from her older sister, Gerd, a prominent ballet dancer, and studied acting at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm.

Ms. Andersson was still in acting school when she was discovered by Bergman, according to a 1993 account in the Los Angeles Times. He invited her to Malmo, Sweden, where he was directing a theater, and cast her in his 1955 comedy “Smiles of a Summer Night.”

Her other films with Bergman included “The Passion of Anna” (1969), “The Touch” (1971) and “Scenes From a Marriage,” which aired in 1973 as a six-part television miniseries and was adapted into a feature film one year later.

Ms. Andersson also starred in productions of “Peer Gynt” and “The Winter’s Tale” that Bergman staged at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in the 1990s. She made her Broadway debut in a 1973 production of “Full Circle,” a World War II drama by Erich Maria Remarque, and three years later made headlines over a Swedish tax inquiry into her film earnings.

By then, she had come to view her critical success with Bergman as a mixed blessing. “It was complicated when I needed to make money, because I had too good a name — but not for being commercial,” she later told the Los Angeles Times. “People didn’t forgive me if I did inferior stuff.”

Her marriages to Kjell Grede, a director, and Per Ahlmark, a politician and writer, ended in divorce. She had a daughter from her first marriage, Jenny Grede Dahlstrand, and was married to Gabriel Mora Baeza. A complete list of survivors was not immediately available.

Ms. Andersson told the New York Times that before “Persona,” she had long sought to play meatier roles for Bergman, and resented being called “a professional innocent” in the Swedish media . But she never asked the director for a change in parts, she said. “I was too proud. And later I realized that there weren’t that many young actresses who could project this light quality.

“Later on, he once said to me: ‘I need a young you.’ I said: ‘What do you mean — a young me? You never told me I was anything.’ ”

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