Ingmar Bergman lays his soul on the line in “Bergman Complete,” Marie Nyreroed’s gentle, intimate and thorough three-part doc. Made with the support of Swedish Television (which aired it locally in 2004) and at times, it seems, with Bergman’s co-direction, the three-parter is a dream for lovers of his work. Already available via Swedish TV on Region Two DVD, the work will be soon released in a 90-minute theatrical version, which should score with distribs and art houses worldwide.
The only previous film about Bergman to come this close to a total portrait is the Vilgot Sjoman’s 1963 “Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie,” chronicling the making of “Winter Light,” his chamber drama of a skeptical village priest. But while Bergman — who turns 88 on July 14 — opened up to Sjoman about his working methods, he goes considerably further with Nyreroed, with whom he has been a friend for years.
From 25 hours of lensed interview footage (largely at the reclusive Bergman’s home on Faro island) and hundreds of hours of archival material, Nyreroed and editor Kurt Bergmark have patiently crafted a three-sided view of Bergman, starting with his film career, followed by coverage of his massive theater output. Final section (“Bergman and Faro Island”) practically has Bergman on the couch, revealing details of his personal life and laying out his “demons.”
Lovely opening section observes the director threading a filmstrip into his first projector, and telling the bittersweet story behind his getting it. Strolling through the woodsy studio campus of Svensk Filmindustri, Bergman recalls the early years, with a turning point being studio head Victor Sjostrom chiding the headstrong and iconoclastic young director on how to properly treat his actors.
Film clips from the early phase of his cinema work dominate, including insightful sections on “The Seventh Seal” (inspired, he notes, by the perceived threat of the atom bomb in the late ’50s).
Countering the cliche of the auteur who demands supreme control over his work, Bergman cites his personal need for a strong producer, and that he regrets he had only one in his life: Lorens Marmstedt.
Even when he managed his own childhood puppet theater with his friends and siblings, Bergman says he was developing a sense of himself as a director. He ranks his theater work above his films, and some behind-the-scenes footage of Bergman rehearsing at the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm, where he served as artistic directorsuggests how vital the stage has been to his life. Here, the appearance of actor Erland Josephson, the only Bergman regular to appear in the film, adds to the sense of how much fun the pair had as young stage artists.
Tour of Bergman’s home on Faro, as he energetically trudges on foot with a cane or drives behind the wheel of a four-by-four, is stoked with terrific details of domestic life, including a love of clocks. His list of his own faults, including bearing grudges and being too pedantic, ends the pic on a powerfully intimate note.
Ultimate impression is of a man who has finally — after many times of claiming to do so — hung up his clapboard, and is relaxed enough to sit down and talk to the camera about his career. Nyreroed is more his easy conversational partner than an inquiring journalist, which may be why little is said, for instance, about his years in German exile when he had run afoul of Swedish tax laws.
Vid lensing is fine, with suitable classical music on the soundtrack.