A moving and multi-layered portrait of veteran Swedish cinematographer Sven Nykvist, “Light Keeps Me Company” is essential viewing for film buffs — and anyone interested in the making of quality movies. The many interviews with actors and directors he has worked with should ensure the film a wider audience than usual for such fare, and pic should be a natural for major fests with documentary sections.
A couple of years ago, Nykvist, now 77, was diagnosed with an ailment that affects his speech, forcing him to prematurely end a distinguished career that started with a Swedish kidpic in 1945 and ended with Woody Allen’s “Celebrity” in 1997. Docu’s director is his son Carl-Gustaf, himself a filmmaker of some repute (1989 Cannes competitor “The Women on the Roof”).
Film consists of interviews with many people Nykvist worked with, as well as with other lensers; clips and stills from a lot of the pics; sequences of Nykvist at his home and in the area in southern Sweden where he grew up (accompanied by quotes from Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha,” a major influence on his life); and plenty of snapshots from his childhood. Actor Richard Wolff reads Nykvist’s commentary.
The two-time Oscar winner says his parents, who were missionaries, were away from home for years at a time, forcing him to grow up with strangers. This affected his own life as an adult, making work and travel his priority and neglecting his family, leading to a bitter divorce. He’s still haunted by the guilt he felt when one of his two sons committed suicide while he was in the U.S. shooting Louis Malle’s “Pretty Baby.”
“Mia Farrow brought me back to life,” says Nykvist, commenting on the affair he had with the actress in the late ’70s. Later, he confesses that for a while he found it hard to work with Allen, seeing him and Farrow together.
Much of the film naturally deals with his long collaboration with Ingmar Bergman: Including TV series, the pair worked together on more than 20 occasions, starting with “Sawdust and Tinsel” in 1953. “It was with ‘Through a Glass Darkly’ in 1961, that our collaboration started for real,” comments Bergman. He adds: “I don’t miss making films, but I miss the collaboration with Sven.”
Allen also talks admiringly of how Nykvist’s work on “Darkly” was an inspiration for the look of his own movies.
The obvious absentee from the lineup of interviewees is Farrow. Since she had such a profound impact on the life of Nykvist, it would have been interesting to hear her own words on the subject.
Pic has an added impact because it was made by one of the children Nykvist deserted in favor of working abroad. In that respect, “Light Keeps Me Company” is also a film about an abandoned son reaching out for his father and for an explanation of why things turned out the way they did.