They’re what you’d consider a “Capital-G Great Film”, which means the experience can prove grueling for those lacking the trained appetite. And for those initiated, prepared to combat the attrition, there’s that hard-earned reward to bask in later. What distinguished films like Persona, Winter Light, and Cries And Whispers as quintessential, was not a trophy of recognition, but time and fond memory. Alas Bergman and his films did receive such recognition. He collected twelve Academy Award nominations and won three, each time in the Best Foreign Film Category. Those winners were The Virgin Spring, Through A Glass Darkly, and Fanny And Alexander.
Three times he was nominated for Best Director: for the aforementioned epic Fanny And Alexander, as well as Face To Face, and Cries And Whispers which was nominated for Best Picture. But he never won. I applaud Alejandro Iñáritu for humbly acknowledging the true teller of value (time) at this years Academy awards. If the Oscars are good for anything, it’s advertisement, and Bergman’s an honorable brand to distribute. For all the vanity, and the pish posh public displays, they can sometimes put a good word forward for some filmmakers who deserve it.
The fact that a film like Cries And Whispers could be nominated for Best Picture alongside unconventional works like The Exorcist, and American Graffitti all in the same year baffles me. That’s like seeing Under The Skin, and Inherent Vice, being nominated this year (I was surprised Birdman was even nominated let alone won). Surely that made more people sit down for a Bergman film than ever would normally, and surely it still got rejected by many. But for the few it strikes a chord with the impact is genuine, and an outwards rejection of the film under scrutiny reveals a strong reaction occurs just the same.
There’s a painful intimacy in Bergman’s films. He crafted Persona in the midst of a crippling depression, and you can feel every ounce of it. Him and his master cinematographer Sven Nykvist captured human emotion with incredible simplicity. Their resources were people, and scarce settings. They used the face, eyes, and human anatomy, to tell the stories for them. Pain has never been evoked so willfully, and it’s critical in defining the brief moments of warmth and respite that his films allow. Each of his works is a penetrative self reflection projected onto characters (so often played by Liv Ullmann) and story. It’s why the films feel so close, and so important, when technically they’re so small.
But those revolutions in craft? Brilliant! His technique? Impeccable. Deny him his morals and subjectify his reasons, but do not deny his importance to form. Favorite filmmaker nominated for the Best Director Academy Award? Ingmar Bergman by a fat margin. But how do you measure and calculate a label like “Best”? You throw a bunch of un-qualified rich people into a room, call them an elaborate name like “The Academy” and let them pick and choose what to advertise in good status. Ingmar Bergman is one of the capital-G greats, and that title wasn’t earned by a trophy on the mantelpiece.