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The House That Bergman Built: A Review of Trespassing Bergman

There’s no denying that Ingmar Bergman made a lasting impression on so many great filmmakers. But it’s often hard to wrap our heads around the fact that Bergman changed the entire course of cinematic history and helped to shape the landscape of filmmaking today.

There’s something wonderful about seeing the likes of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Claire Denis, and Wes Craven, going out of their way to make the journey to visit Bergman’s humble abode on the remote island of Faro. And seeing their reactions as they first step inside the house. Their gleeful, awestruck expressions show us a human side to this highly acclaimed and talented directors. It feels like we are witnessing something deeply personal, and we feel honoured to be along for the journey. This is a rare event, very few have stepped inside the house of Bergman.

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Directors Jane Magnusson and Hynek Pallas’ decision to use previously unseen behind-the-scenes footage from the making of Bergman’s films, along with candid conversations with other filmmakers, help to weave the story of the great director. Detailing his early days, to his peak in the 50s and 60s, to his slump in the 70s and the return to his form in the 80s.

The feature came out of a six-part 2012 TV series titled “Bergman’s Video.” with each episode centering with a central topic from Bergman’s films (for example, “Death,” “Fear,” “Silence”) and how that theme played out in the interviewed filmmakers’ work. For Trespassing Bergman, the directors decided to focus on the effect and impression that Bergman’s work had on the likes of great directors such as Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Michael Haneke, Ang Lee and Zhang Yimou.

Exchanging their shoes for slippers at the door, the Bergman estate guests explore the carefully preserved building, which, which after Bergman’s death in 2007, was turned into a museum (everything left how it was when the man died, a bedside table complete with his scribblings reveals something pedantic about the director). Most of the guest often sit down into comfy chairs in the TV room to talk. The room has an extensive, carefully alphabetized collection of VHS tapes, (we discover that Bergman had a copy of Die Hard, it seems surreal to think of him sitting down to watch the 80s action flick).

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There are some interesting moments which I found to be engaging, such as Inarritu exclaiming “If cinema was a religion, this would be Mecca, the Vatican. This is the center of it all.”  Seeing Clare Denis becoming faint will in the house and exclaiming that she needs to leave, sums up how my experience would be being in the same situation. It would be far too overwhelming to comprehend. Tomas Alfredson even mutters that being in Bergman’s house is “like visiting the NOT fun house.”

And there’s some genuinely jaw dropping moments courtesy from Mr Lars von Trier, speaking from his own office in Denmark. He offers saucy, tongue-in-cheek commentary which harks back to his ”I am a Nazi” days at Cannes film festival. Often I’m left somewhat puzzled at what he’s trying to say about the effect that Bergman made on him and Lars seems more interested in discussing the topic of sex (a discussion about Bergman being a horny old man goes on for far too long, but this is Von Trier after all, so what does one expect?).

The interviews for Francis Ford Coppola, Scorsese and Allen help give some background into the explosion of the New Hollywood film movement of the late 60s and 70s. And it’s amusing to hear how these three male filmmakers sought out the films of Bergman because of their sex appeal.

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My biggest gripe with the documentary is that certain contributors such as Holly Hunter, Laura Dern and Robert De Niro didn’t really add much to the discussion. Especially in comparison with the accounts of those actors who worked with him, such as Harriet Andersson and Pernilla August who I wish the filmmakers had spent more time with. They were the real ones who spent the most personal time with Bergman. Isabella Rossellini’s story about Autumn Sonata, her mother Ingrid Bergman’s first and only collaboration with the director, is particularly touching, and something that is far too brief.

Even Woody Allen’s affectionate reminiscences are far more fascinating to listen to than the ramblings of Lars Von Trier or De Niro’s excuses for not watching enough Bergman films. Because Allen, along with Andersson and August, offer us another more personal side to Bergman, one which very few know about. I find it a tad frustrating that we rush over certain aspect of Bergman’s life like his depression, and his relationship with women, which I believe to be more of interest than the opinions of certain directors. But aside from that little grumble, the documentary is fairly solid and engaging.

It just seems clear to me that Magnusson and Pallas bite off more than they could chew with this documentary, and maybe it works best as a six-part TV series rather than a rushed two-hour film. In which they throw in everything bar the kitchen sink in an attempt to try to cover a career than span over six decades. They seem determined to cover so much ground that they sometimes lose their focus and any coherent point of view.

Overall, the film is well made, and Bergman remains such a towering figure that we rarely lose interest in the interviews. It is worth watching simply to see the look of pure excitement on the faces of these great directors as they step into the house of Bergman.

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