He's an old man living alone on a remote Swedish island. The island has only 600 inhabitants, and the locals respect his desire for solitude. When visitors ask where the old man lives, the locals say they don't know. When we meet him he's 86, and he's been a widower for the past eight years. While he once thought of death as nothing more than a light being extinguished, he still feels his late wife's presence each day. This convinces him that whatever death may be, it is not nothingness.
This man is Ingmar Bergman, just a few years before his death in 2007. As a film-maker he explored all aspects of the human condition. And in the fascinating documentary BERGMAN ISLAND he reveals many of the ways in which that exploration was autobiographical, driven by his family history, his personal failings, and his ever-present demons.
When we meet Bergman, we discover that he starts his day with breakfast then a walk on the island. He sits down at the same time each day and writes for three hours. It's a routine he maintains in order to avoid giving into the demons or slipping into depression. His housekeeper comes in at 3pm. Some days he doesn't talk to another human being.
But he's been working again. Directing "Saraband," the belated follow-up to his internationally acclaimed "Scenes From a Marriage." In his talks with documentarian Marie Nyreröd, we also learn some interesting facts about the autobiographical nature of many of the most dramatic scenes in those highly personal movies. He also opens up about the cruelty he has inflicted on others and the "family laziness" that led him to abandon nine children born to five different wives.
Bergman's recollections span everything from his childhood to his later years. We hear about physical abuse from dad and a trip to the shrink with mom (who was concerned about his "girlish" need for hugs and caresses). We gain insights into his days at film school, as a stage director and a pioneer in TV direction, and discover the inspiration for several famous scenes (playing chess with Death in "The Seventh Seal," for instance). We relive with him his early successes--at Cannes and in Hollywood. These successes gave Bergman carte blanche to write and direct his own movies from an early point in his career. Looking back, he has some regret that this autonomy also made him miss finding a great collaborator or having a critic who would really give him an unvarnished opinion about his work.
All in all, this a fascinating documentary about the creative and personal life of a man who came of age in the pre-TV (and pre-Prozac) era and who created many of the most penetrating and psychologically astute tales that shaped world cinema. You don't have to have seen all of Bergman's movies to appreciate this film, but it is sure to inspire you to catch up on some you may have missed. Highly recommended.