TIFF Cinematheque is currently celebrating one of cinema’s most consequential names, Ingmar Bergman. This film retrospective, Bergman 100, offers the opportunity to (re)discover the works of a master so influential, that his impact can not only be seen in the works of auteurs like Andrei Tarkovsky, but also in parodies by SCTV, The Muppets and even The Simpsons.
TIFF Cinematheque programmer James Quandt answers 5 Questions… on Bergman.
HM: My introduction to Bergman was through The Seventh Seal, during my early university years. It affected me on various levels. What was your your first Bergman film?
James Quandt (JQ): Bergman’s Cries and Whispers was not only the first of his films that I saw, but the very first non-English language film I ever saw (at the age of 16) because I had grown up in a small village in northern Saskatchewan where foreign films were never shown. If you have seen Cries and Whispers, Bergman’s most beautiful and harrowing work, you can imagine the effect it had on me. I stumbled around the city (Saskatoon) afterwards, in a state of shock and what can only be described as existential vertigo.
HM: What was it about this first film that has stayed with you over time… how have your views of it and Bergman evolve?
JQ: It is hard to describe the many details from Cries.. that have stuck with me without spoiling the film for those who have not seen it — I’ll just say, you will never look at a shard of glass the same way again. Bergman said he was trying to film the interior of a soul in the film, and its unforgettable plush red interiors — every shade of crimson, incarnadine, scarlet you can imagine — were designed to evoke the agony of a soul in torment.
HM: I will say, I have not seen all of his films but what first drew me to his work was how his films challenge mortality, love, God, human relationships, and so much more. What is it about his films that continue to draw you in again and again?
JQ: Perhaps because of my dark view of human nature, I am always drawn to Bergman’s stinging insights into our infinite capacity for emotional cruelty and moral cravenness!
HM: How would you describe Bergman’s films and influence for anyone who is new to him and his work?
JQ: Bergman’s films tackle the big existential themes – the imminence of death, religious doubt (often cast as “the silence of God”), spiritual angst, the cruelty of familial, marital, and professional relationships, human vanity and weakness – and have proven amongst the most influential in the history of cinema, from the most populist directors (e.g., Steven Spielberg, subject of an upcoming retrospective at TIFF Cinematheque) to more cerebral auteurs (e.g. Olivier Assayas).
HM: The Bergman 100 series at TIFF is presenting many of his films. This may be a difficult question but if you had to suggest three must-see films, which would you suggest people see?
Bergman 100: The Ingmar Bergman Centenary is currently screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox. For showtimes and advance tickets, visit tiff.net.