"Magnusson skilfully releases just enough information through the richly detailed voiceover and talking heads for the viewer to draw conclusions and paint a fascinating picture"
For most filmmakers, releasing just one iconic masterpiece in a single year would be more than sufficient but in 1957, legendary director Ingmar Bergman unveiled not only The Seventh Seal to the world but also, wrote, directed and released Wild Strawberries all the while working on other artistic projects.
With two such influential pieces of cinema coming out in such a short space of time, it’s understandable that director Jane Magnusson would take that year as the starting point for her engaging and thorough documentary Bergman: A Year in a Life which released to coincide with Bergman’s centenary.
The title is somewhat mis-leading, for Magnusson uses the year as a starting point to examine the life and work of the famed Swedish filmmaker and branches out to examine his early years right the way through to his death. Life and times should not be separated for as we learn, Bergman’s films were the best reveal of his persona, in contrast to his contradictory journals. The man maketh the films and the film’s reveal the man.
The son of a preacher he had an abusive childhood and a fear of death, so relevant in the equally named character in The Seventh Seal and the quite brilliant notion of Death being unknowing. Magnusson skilfully releases just enough information through the richly detailed voiceover and talking heads for the viewer to draw conclusions and paint a fascinating picture.
Bergman also suffered from angst and chronic stomach pains, had several relationships, fathered six children, dabbled in Nazism at a time when many were swept along with the movement, and worked in theatre and radio as well as film (there were a total of six productions in the year to which the title refers).
Bergman does appear in archive interview form, notably with Dick Cavett, giving the required balance to proceedings.
While towards the end elements do become somewhat meandering, this is a minor quibble for the fact that Bergman was such an influential filmmaker is reflected in his life story and subsequently his work, and that is what makes this documentary such a rich and rewarding work.
Delving further into the world of Bergman, we are treated to a conversation with director Jane Magnusson, a short animation she made about him, an audio interview and the UK trailer. The Blu-ray release also includes a 20 page booklet.