Ingmar Bergman is considered by many to be one of the best filmmakers of all time, having created seminal masterworks such as The Seventh Seal, Fanny and Alexander, and Persona.
The new documentary Searching for Ingmar Bergman explores the eponymous auteur’s life, career, and impact on the film industry. It is co-directed by and features the renowned director Margarethe von Trotta, who had personal experiences with Bergman.
One does not need to have familiarity with the work of Bergman to appreciate this documentary, but it certainly helps. Even if you haven’t seen any of his films in their entirety, understanding why people consider his movies to be great is important, as most of the film assumes that the audience already knows that he is great.
There are clips of Bergman’s films spread throughout, but there is little commentary on the clips themselves. Rather, the movie focuses on him filmmaking process and personal life that led him to create his masterpieces.
As a result, the film is more insightful than educational, aimed at an audience that already has a comfortable understanding of what goes into making a movie. If you are not a hardcore cinephile, then this film probably isn’t for you. The story likely won’t keep the interest of anyone who isn’t passionate about the documentary’s subject.
That being said, the film does provide some very interesting details about the ways in which Bergman worked. A recurring theme that the documentary explores is the way that Bergman treated the actors with whom he worked. It is weird to look at how differently actors were treated in the past compared to how they are treated now.
The segments featuring von Trotta speaking of her admiration of Bergman are fine, but the other interviews are far more in-depth and enjoyable. The interviews with Bergman’s son are perhaps the best, shining the most light on the filmmaker’s personal life. However, since the personal and work lives of the artist were so intertwined, his son is also able to provide insight into his career. Additionally, interviews with modern filmmakers such as Olivier Assayas do add some level of analysis as to the reasons why Bergman is considered to be a master.
The documentary is very ably-assembled, but that would be expected given that von Trotta herself is a distinguished filmmaker. The editing is great, with archive footage, clips, and interviews being used effectively to create variety within the film. However, von Trotta’s presence as the narrator of the movie can be somewhat distracting at times, as she tries to compare her own success to that of Bergman.
Overall, Searching for Ingmar Bergman is a fascinating documentary about one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. It isn’t for cinema “novices”, but for the film-minded crowd, this is sure to be a worthwhile watch.
Searching for Ingmar Bergman opens in select theaters beginning November 2.