An inspiring docu that will circulate throughout the world’s film festivals, “The Voice of Bergman” offers a rare and fascinating opportunity to hear 78 -year-old Swedish master Ingmar Bergman speak for almost an hour and a half about what the cinema means to him. Soberly lensed without music, commentary or film clips, this first docu by Gunnar Bergdahl, director of the Goteborg Film Festival (where Bergman is honorary president), is a fine example of non-intrusive journalism and provides an important permanent record of the great director’s artistic thoughts and influences. Per contract with Bergman, it is not available for commercial sale to TV or any other medium, and fest audiences will be its sole beneficiaries.
Wearing gold eyeglasses, a flannel shirt and vest and a devilish goatee, Bergman discourses freely in a fixed close-up that varies little from beginning to end. Director and subject agreed beforehand not to discuss Bergman’s films, but instead to focus on his views of others’ work. Editing together roughly half the material he shot on a single day at the Goteborg fest, Bergdahl and editor Robert Stengard divide the material into eight sections, including “The Word and the Image,” “The Music of Close-Up” and “The Insanity of Film.”
“Film is the only art form able to convey the human face,” stresses Bergman, whose creative process starts with imagining some characters talking to one another. He finds scriptwriting tedious. He considers film-watching close to a hypnotic state, an “endlessly fascinating journey into your emotions.” A film that doesn’t move people to laugh or cry is “meaningless.” The secret is to “open the wound of the story,” and a film that fails to do that is a failure. All in all, cinema represents “a grand and impenetrable experience.”
Equally fascinating are his filmic loves and hates. Dreyer, he believes now, was a bad director who made two good pictures, “Joan of Arc” and “Day of Wrath”; Jan Troell is a genius. He has fallen out of love with Jacques Tati, is seduced by the f/x of “Independence Day” and “Waterworld,” and frequently re-screens Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev” and Mikhalkov’s “Dark Eyes.”
Bergman retired from feature filmmaking in 1983 with “Fanny and Alexander.” Since that time, by his own choice, he has worked actively as a TV director. An avid cineaste who sees a film every day, “especially Swedish films,” and an expert on the silent film era, he communicates clear opinions with contagious enthusiasm. His home on the island of Faro is equipped with a cinematheque containing 400 16mm prints.