'Trespassing Bergman': Palm Springs Review

Courtesy of Palm Springs International Film Festival
Ingmar Bergman is worshipped and defamed in this rambling but fascinating doc

Directors from Ang Lee to Michael Haneke analyze the work of Swedish master Ingmar Bergman while visiting his home on the island of Faro

A few documentaries have been made about filmmakers, but Trespassing Bergman may be one of the most comprehensive.  At least it boasts the largest number of other directors analyzing the work of one revered auteur, Swedish master Ingmar Bergman.  Interviewees include directors from all over the world, and they cover quite a range, from Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese to Michael Haneke and  Zhang Yimou.  Not all of these directors revere Bergman.  Most of them do, but a few are quite critical, which adds a piquant sense of balance to the portrait.  Alexander Payne, for example, dares to say that The Seventh Seal doesn’t hold up.  Trespassing will have limited appeal outside of film festivals and public television, but it’s a mesmerizing (if slightly overlong) document for those who want to know more about Bergman’s influence on the artists who followed him.

Much of the film was shot in Bergman’s home on the remote Swedish island of Faro, where he lived during the last half of his life.  Several international directors travel to Faro and inspect the well preserved rooms or walk around the island to get a better sense of the landscapes that inspired Bergman’s imagery.  In one of the first interviews, director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu compares visiting Faro to making a pilgrimage to Mecca.

The visitors peruse Bergman’s library as well as his vast video collection.  We are told that Bergman watched three films a day when he wasn’t working, and his tastes ran the gamut from Hollywood products to arthouse fare and even skin flicks like the soft-core porn film, Emmannuelle.  This leads Danish director Lars von Trier, by far the most provocative of the interviewees, to comment on the Swedish auteur’s voracious sexual appetites.  Von Trier imagines Bergman masturbating all over the house, though he doesn’t exactly provide a lot of documentation for that supposition.

Von Trier’s comments about Bergman are outrageous and often insane, but they’re definitely entertaining.  Many of the other directors offer rather bland and unrevealing commentary, which only goes to show that film directors are not film critics.  Only a few of the world class directors interviewed here offer any fresh or valuable insights.  Haneke shrewdly praises Bergman for being one of the few directors who had the ability to depict violence (in films such as Hour of the Wolf and Shame) without making it seem attractive.  And Daniel Espinosa points out that the divorce rate in Sweden soared after the release of Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage.

It’s more interesting to hear from the directors and actors who actually knew Bergman personally.  Woody Allen doesn’t pretend to provide critical insights but instead offers affectionate reminiscences.  Pernilla August, who starred in Fanny and Alexander, points out how shrewd it was of Bergman to begin by filming a lighthearted scene of a pillow fight that helped to put the actors at ease.  Isabella Rossellini tells a fascinating anecdote about her mother’s arguments with Bergman when they were filming Autumn Sonata.  Ingrid Bergman resented the film’s thesis that a career woman would inevitably be a failure as a mother.

These telling bits are too often subordinated to a medley of less relevant anecdotes.  It’s hard to understand why John Landis, for example, plays such a prominent role in this film.  What kind of influence would Bergman have had on the director of Animal House or The Blues Brothers?

Swedish directors Jane Magnusson and Hynek Pallas seem determined to cover so much ground that they sometimes lose their focus and any coherent point of view.  But the film is well made, and Bergman remains such a towering figure that we rarely lose interest in the interviews.  And there’s a genuinely touching meeting between Bergman and Ang Lee that brings the film to a strong conclusion.

Cast:  Wes Anderson, Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, Claire Denis, Ang Lee, John Landis, Ridley Scott, Michael Haneke, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Lars von Trier, Zhang Yimou.

Director-screenwriters:  Jane Magnusson, Hynek Pallas.

Producers:  Fatima Varhos, Linda Costigan.

Director of photography:  Jonas Rudstrom.

Editors:  Orvar Anklew, Steve Ericsson, Mikael Jonsson.

Music:  Jonas Beckman, Lars Kumlin.

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