Ingmar Bergman, 89, the visionary filmmaker who solemnly mapped the human heart and plumbed the soul, died yesterday on Faro, an island off the Baltic coast of his native Sweden. He died in his sleep, according to his daughter Eve.
Even one who never bought a ticket to one of Mr. Bergman's best-known films such as Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal or Persona has encountered the far-reaching influence of the director, whom Woody Allen praised yesterday as "the finest filmmaker of my lifetime."
Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music is based on Mr. Bergman's enchanting 1955 boudoir farce, Smiles of a Summer Night. The heroes in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure play Twister with the Grim Reaper in tribute to the most famous scene in the Bergman canon - the Crusader (Max von Sydow) playing chess with Death in The Seventh Seal.
That recurring segment on The Colbert Report called "Cheating Death"? That's a Seventh Seal reference. The rock group Van Halen also honored the film in song.
From Love and Death to Crimes and Misdemeanors, Allen's serious comedies and haunted dramas reverberate with Mr. Bergman's themes: the quests for faith, meaning and human connection.
Beyond his impact on other artists, Mr. Bergman had a vast influence on the way we see movies. One of the three horsemen of the art-house movement, Mr. Bergman, along with Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa, prompted the opening of art theaters from Boston to Bombay during the 1950s and 1960s, drawing audiences to more challenging fare than the latest Hollywood blockbuster.
In more than 60 movies and telefilms, Mr. Bergman moved effortlessly between his imagination and reality, like a patient analyzing his own dreams. The Swedish filmmaker was one of the first to suggest that the harsh and unforgiving topography of his native country bore an unsettling resemblance to the souls of his countrymen.
"Bergmanesque," the adjective inspired by the filmmaker's moody landscapes and pessimistic characters, has become a synonym for bleak and desolate.
His 54 feature films earned numerous awards, including foreign-language Oscars for The Virgin Spring (1960), Through a Glass Darkly (1961), and the autobiographical Fanny and Alexander (1983), his last film feature. Many of his important works, such as the landmark Scenes From a Marriage (1973) and After the Rehearsal (1984), were made for television. At the 1971 Oscar ceremony, Mr. Bergman won the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award, honoring a body of work.
"From an early age onward, it was said that 'Ingmar has no sense of humor,' " Mr. Bergman recalled in the 1990 memoir Images: My Life in Film.
While he is best known for the somber, often psychodramatic, intensity of his imagery, Mr. Bergman possessed a lively wit (see his Smiles of a Summer Night and the vibrant The Magic Flute) and a welcome gallows humor. When the Grim Reaper in Seal draws black in chess, he dryly tells the Crusader: "It suits me."
The gaunt von Sydow, whose El Greco face haunted a dozen Bergman films, including Seal and Hour of the Wolf, bears a strong resemblance to the long-faced filmmaker for whom he so memorably served as a surrogate.
Born July 14, 1918, in Uppsala, Ernst Ingmar Bergman was the son of a Lutheran pastor and a homemaker whose domestic life was recalled with both warmth and frostiness in Fanny and Alexander. His puritanical father prohibited him from seeing movies, but his maternal grandmother ignored the edict and took young Ingmar to the cinema.
One Christmas when Mr. Bergman's elder brother received the gift of a magic lantern, a Victorian slide projector, the future filmmaker traded an army of toy soldiers for the enchanted toy, and used it to stage plays.
In his memoir The Magic Lantern, Mr. Bergman writes of light - as it dappled a plate of spinach or pierced the stained-glass window of his father's church - as a constant companion. The filmmaker's cinematic use of light and shadow, so suggestive of anguish and isolation, invited comparisons to Edvard Munch and Giorgio de Chirico. (Among Mr. Bergman's collaborators was the gifted cinematographer Sven Nykvist.)
Mr. Bergman returned from a year as an exchange student in Germany to enter the University of Stockholm in 1937. Soon he was dividing his creative energy between writing screenplays and directing theater productions.
His personal life was similarly bifurcated, between wives and paramours. He married five times, acknowledged nine children, and enjoyed countless affairs with his leading ladies, including Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Liv Ullman and Lena Olin. He was compelled to work so much, he once said, because he had all these women and children to support.
The height of his acclaim in 1976 coincided with his indictment on charges of tax evasion. "I signed papers I didn't understand," he said of leaving his affairs to his accountant. Although the charges were later dropped, he went into self-imposed exile in Germany for almost a decade.
While Mr. Bergman's prolific and varied output defies easy categorization, film historian Robin Wood identified four major movements.
First came the films about the varieties of love, such as The Naked Night (1953), a striking portrait of circus players, and Smiles of a Summer Night. The next wave of films focused on transience and mortality. In movies such as The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries (both 1957), about an aged professor reflecting on his youth as he contemplates death, and The Virgin Spring, a tale of rape and revenge, Mr. Bergman considered the life cycle.
In the '60s, at the height of his international fame, the filmmaker contemplated tortured faith and tortured artists. The religious trilogy Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light and The Silence, and the artist films Persona and Hour of the Wolf, are pictures his adherents found most radical and his critics most alienating.
Marriage and family was the theme of his final period. During the '70s, his Cries and Whispers, Scenes From a Marriage and Autumn Sonata explored the fraught dynamic between sisters, spouses, mother and daughter.
In Fanny and Alexander, about the daughter of a sunny theatrical family who marries a repressive clergyman, the mature filmmaker reconciled the clashing themes of his earlier work. The moral of his last feature film, that art and faith need each other, stands as his eloquent epitaph.
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