Jane Magnusson • Director
“You don’t have to dig too deep to find out bad things about Bergman”
by Marta Bałaga
- We caught up with Swedish director Jane Magnusson as she presented her documentary Bergman – A Year in a Life at the New Horizons Film Festival in Poland
Following 2013’s Trespassing Bergman, co-directed with Hynek Pallas, and a playful short entitled Vox Lipoma, dedicated to the late director’s mysterious facial lump, in Bergman – A Year in a Life [+see also:
interview: Jane Magnusson
film profile], Swedish director Jane Magnusson takes on the famous filmmaker once again. This time, she focuses on an exceptionally productive year when he released both The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, produced two plays at the theatre, two more for the radio and a TV movie, had six children and juggled several relationships. We caught up with Magnusson at the New Horizons International Film Festival to discuss the film - and Bergman himself.
Cineuropa: Your film is supposed to be about 1957, but you leave yourself enough wiggle room for the focus to occasionally drift away in a completely different direction.
Jane Magnusson: Bergman was 89 years old when he died and made over 55 films. There is no way you can make one film about all of that. When I realised how interesting that year was, I wanted to shine a spotlight on it. But it wouldn’t be engaging unless you said something about the man first. You need to know things about his childhood, his youth and his personal life. You need to know what a crazy year like that leads to – in this case, a huge international artistic impact first, and then eventually his transformation into a grumpy old man.
The interesting thing is that Bergman was always the first to say: “I am terrible.” Nobody else would dare to. I don’t know if he was just being smart, because when you are that self-critical, others tend to focus on the positives instead. They go: “Oh, look at these wonderful films.” Never mind that he was a terrible father or that he thought Hitler’s plans were a good idea. One of the best things about him was that he was very, very honest.
But is it enough to be honest? A Swedish actor recently said that Bergman probably ruined as many lives as Harvey Weinstein, but he is still happy that he made his films.
I don’t think you are supposed to ruin anybody’s life. There were all these women in his life, but they never complained – and I can’t complain for them. I tried to find people who actually worked with him, and knew what he sounded like and how fast he walked. But nobody wanted to be “the one that Bergman hated”. They would all say: “I was his favourite; he used to call me all the time, and we would talk for hours.” But when I asked what they would talk about, the answer was: “Well, I can’t really say.” Except for Thorsten Flinck [the lead actor in his 1995 version of The Misanthrope at the Royal Dramatic Theatre, with whom he famously clashed], that is – he really has nothing to lose. His story was so crushing and horrible that I could hardly believe it. And still, some wanted to pretend it didn’t happen. “He deserved it,” they would say. Nobody deserves something like what happened to Flinck.
There seems to be this need for all of these wonderful artists to look absolutely spotless. How did it feel for you to be able to change that?
Again, it helped that he always talked about it, too. I haven’t made anything up. You really don’t have to dig too deep to find out bad things about Bergman. When you read his autobiography, it’s all there. It’s everyone else around him who constantly repeats that we shouldn’t bring our monuments crashing down. But it’s fine! Persona is a masterpiece, no matter how much of a bad father he was. They don’t have any bearing on one another.
But it’s tricky because, as shown in your film, you never actually know if what he was writing was true.
We don’t know if anyone is truthful, do we? But he was very thorough with documenting everything – our poor editing assistant had to watch 400 hours of behind-the-scenes footage. I think he knew at an early stage he would become this huge artist, so he would just store everything. All of the material was ready; it’s just that going through it was hard. But every time someone would find a picture of him with his favourite biscuit, we would throw a party [laughs].
You actually talked to him only once. Did it help that you kept your distance?
I don’t think I would have wanted to actually sit down with him for this film. Those interviews have already been done. They are great, and I am thankful for them, but I don’t think we need any more – especially in Sweden, where during this very special year of his centennial, absolutely everything has to do with Ingmar Bergman. Right now, every article and every TV or radio show is dedicated to the man already. And I am contributing to the overflow as well.
During the 1990s, he had tremendous power, and people were tired of him. He sucked all of the air out of Swedish filmmaking. There were all of these films about his parents: it started with Fanny and Alexander, and then we had The Best Intentions, Private Confessions and Sunday’s Children, directed by his son. Sweden is not a big country. How were we supposed to support these giant productions year after year, all of them about Bergman’s parents? At that time, a Swedish comedy show made the joke that the only part of Bergman’s life that hadn’t been made into a film was the moment when he got his first moped.
Don’t give them ideas!
It’s interesting, because if you make films about Bergman, you suddenly get more funding than when you make films not about Ingmar Bergman. In Sweden, his name still means a lot. But it was actually my American professor, Arnold Weinstein, who first introduced me to his works. You can hear him in the film, and he talks about him in a very unpretentious way. Before, I just used to hear my parents whisper from time to time: “Oh no, not another Bergman movie.” Then I forgot about him again, moved back to Sweden, and look at me now: I’ve made three Bergman projects. But my ambition is for young people to see this documentary and go: “I have never heard of this strange, great artist before, but now I would like to see some of his films.”
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