Review: ‘But Film Is My Mistress’

Feels like a passionate but-all-too brief afternoon quickie.

Juxtaposing scenes from eight films by the late Ingmar Bergman with little-seen behind-the-scenes footage of the Swedish helmer at work, 65-minute made-for-Swedish-TV docu “But Film Is My Mistress” feels like a passionate but-all-too brief afternoon quickie. Laced with often insightful audio-only observations not just from Bergman himself but also name helmers (including Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Lars von Trier), this sequel to helmer Stig Bjorkman’s docu short “Images From the Playground” has instant fest appeal, and could play offshore on upmarket cablers. It’s ultimate destiny, however, lies in marriage with Bergman box sets.

The eight films excerpted here — “Persona” (1966), “Shame” (1968), “Scenes From a Marriage” (1973), “Cries and Whispers” (1972), “Autumn Sonata” (1978), “From the Life of the Marionettes” (1980), “After the Rehearsal” (1984) and his last, “Saraband” (2003) — rep a judicious spread of deeply revered classics and more obscure titles.

Highlights in the archive docu material include Bergman laughing with Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann on the set of “Persona,” guiding lenser Sven Nykvist for a tricky shot in “Shame” and discussing line readings and motivations with Ingrid Bergman on the set of “Autumn Sonata.” Voice-over observations from Bergman tend to be general in nature, but meaty. (A typical remark: “All that matters is that the work is meaningful for those doing it.”)

The contributions from still-living directors vary more in quality. Woody Allen is disappointingly vague, given his well-known infatuation with Bergman’s work. Olivier Assayas waffles about “the abysses within oneself” but is clearly passionate, while Lars von Trier reveals more about himself than Bergman, although that’s interesting in itself. Just like professional critics, the ones who choose to talk specifically and knowledgeably about technique? — John Sayles (recorded over a phone, it seems) and Martin Scorsese — are the most interesting.

Graceful editing by Dominika Daubenbuchel and a soulful score by Matti Bye pull it altogether beautifully.

But Film Is My Mistress



An Ingmar Bergman Foundation, AB Svensk Filmindustri production, with the support of World Cinema Foundation, Swedish National Broadcasting Network (SVT), Swedish Film Institute. (International sales: AB Svensk Filmindustri, Stockholm.) Produced by Stina Gardell. Executive producers, Jon Asp, Ingrid Dahlberg. Directed by Stig Bjorkman.


Camera (color/B&W, 16mm); editor, Dominika Daubenbuchel; music, Matti Bye; sound, Mario Adamsson, Peter Adolfsson. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Cannes Classics), May 18, 2010. Running time: 65 MIN. (Swedish, English, French, Italian, German dialogue)


Woody Allen, Olivier Assayas, Bernardo Bertolucci, Arnaud Desplechin, John Sayles, Martin Scorsese, Liv Ullmann, Lars von Trier.

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