Liv & Ingmar: Film Review

Liv & Ingmar Poster - P 2012

Liv & Ingmar Poster - P 2012

Beautifully shot doc offers an intimate look at the famous director/star romance.

Director Dheeraj Akolkar's debut doc focuses on the romance between actress Liv Ullmann and director Ingmar Bergman.

MONTREAL — One of cinema's most significant romances is eulogized with reverence in Dheeraj Akolkar's Liv & Ingmar, which might more rightly be titled Liv on Liv & Ingmar. Cinephiles of a certain age (and younger ones with tastes shaped by the Criterion Collection) will lap it up, and Hallvard Braein's cinematography is certainly lush enough to justify a big-screen run before the doc gets to video.

Late in the film, Liv Ullmann admits to occasionally resenting the fact that, after all these years, people still can't talk to her without asking what it was like to work with Ingmar Bergman. The director once consolingly insisted that such questions tacitly acknowledged her own gifts as well: "You are my Stradivarius," he told her. Liv & Ingmar is only concerned with the art the two left behind in this sense, as an outgrowth of their intense offscreen relationship. (Throughout, stages of the couple's emotional evolution are illustrated with clips of their films, with Max Von Sydow -- if Ullmann was a Stradivarius, what was he? -- and Erland Josephson standing in for Bergman.)

Akolkar focuses largely on the first five or so years of their relationship, which began on the set of Persona when she was 25 to his 46. He takes Ullmann back to the island of Fårö, and the film is well served by his heavy reliance on this interview footage: Sitting in the house they shared and elsewhere on this storied isle, she offers an intimate and clear-eyed account of their time together. Describing things in the kind of poetic terms that can only come after some rumination (the film's voiceover borrows from her memoir Changing), she describes the immediate bond that caused both director and actress to forsake their spouses, then what it was like to live with Bergman -- who needed to spend his days working in solitude, but refused to let her have visitors or leave their walled-off property.

Though the director isn't alive to speak for himself (and one suspects he wouldn't have done so), Akolkar frequently quotes Bergman's own memoir and his letters to Ullmann, showing his awareness of and frustration with the personal failings that would soon drive her away. After their split, Ullmann speaks with tenderness and self-aware humor of how passions were transmuted, over time, into a deep and artistically productive friendship.

In addition to excerpting their films, Akolkar indulges himself with atmospheric insert shots that give the doc a commercial polish but are usually unnecessary. The same impulse leads him to slow down the final frames of some film clips, worried that we'll miss a look of anguish or fury in an actor's eyes if he doesn't slow to a freeze-frame. Anyone inclined to see Liv & Ingmar is probably well acquainted with the emotions these films stir, and the parallels they have to the auteur's inner life.

Production Company: Nordic Stroies AS
Director-Screenwriter: Dheeraj Akolkar
Producer: Rune H. Trondsen
Director of photography: Hallvard Braein
Music: Stefan Nilsson
Editor: Tushar Ghogale
Sales: Rune Trondsen
No rating, 84 minutes