Nyreroed doc reminds Cannes of Bergman legacy

Multihyphenate is subject of docu set to unspool at fest

When Cannes celebrated its 50th birthday in 1997 with a planeload of past honorees, one cinematic titan was notable by his absence. Swedish master Ingmar Bergman preferred to stay on his remote island of Faroe.

But Bergman’s presence has been felt in other ways at recent fests, with the screening of TV pic “In the Presence of a Clown” in 1998, and two Bergman-scripted films in 1997 and 2000 directed by Liv Ullmann, his muse and star of several of his greatest films. Indeed, although he hasn’t made a theatrical feature for 23 years — “Fanny and Alexander” (1982) was his last — Bergman remains a regular on the arthouse circuit.

This year, his 87th, will be no different: Bergman is the subject of a new documentary at Cannes, while his 2003 telepic “Sara-band” — which reunited him with Ullmann for the first time in a quarter-century — is making it into cinemas in many territories. Sony Pictures Classics will open it in the U.S. on July 8 in a digitally projected version — the only way he will allow it to be seen.

Swedish filmmaker Marie Nyreroed, whose three-hour Bergman documentary will be screening in the Cannes Classique sidebar, first interviewed the director in 1983 and has met him repeatedly since. But it took her two years to get him to agree to the three-parter: one section on cinema, one on theater and one about Bergman’s life on Faroe, grouped together under the title “Ingmar Bergman Complete.”

“I stayed with him on the island for three weeks,” says Nyreroed. “He’s a man who likes to be by himself. But he likes people and he loves to talk. He still calls me regularly, hardly ever for less than an hour.”

Bergman has won five prizes at Cannes, but never a Palme d’Or. Now, sadly, it’s too late. “He has never been out of the business,” says Nyreroed, continuing to work in TV and theater (he has directed over 100 plays) after he stopped making films. “But ‘Sara-band’ is like an end to many of his stories. He’s said many times he was going to quit, but this time he’s decided he’s not going to leave the island anymore. He wants to stop while he is still in good shape.”

Nyreroed’s documentary was jointly funded by Swedish Television and production company Svensk Filmindustri, two Nordic powerhouses with which Bergman has spent much of his career. Along with the Swedish Film Institute, the pair recently co-founded the Ingmar Bergman Foundation. This in response to 45 packing cases of manuscripts, notebooks, sketches, photographs and behind-the-scenes footage that arrived from Faroe.

The end of this month will see a high-powered symposium in Stockholm, with a campaign currently on in New York to procure an introductory address from a major U.S. director who has repeatedly claimed Bergman as an influence.

No prizes for guessing who, if all goes according to plan, might be saying “Play It Again, Ingmar!”