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Review: Searching for Ingmar Bergman

December 7, 2018

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta turns her attention to another director in Searching for Ingmar Bergman, offering an engaging and often insightful portrait of the late Swedish master as a filmmaker, an artist and a father.

An accomplished auteur in her own right, who was inspired by Bergman’s work and became a contemporary of his throughout the second half of his filmmaking career, von Trotta shares a personal connection to Bergman that provides the basis of this documentary.

It’s this personal connection that sees her through as she travels to locations throughout Europe that defined his life, and interviews some of the people who were closest to him, including actress and frequent collaborator Liv Ullman, with whom he also shared a daughter through an extramarital affair, and his son Daniel Bergman who took up his father’s mantle as a filmmaker.

On the one hand, Searching for Ingmar Bergman functions as a retrospective of his career, showing a selection of clips from his many iconic films as modern filmmakers like Olivier Assayas, Mia Hansen-Løve and Ruben Östlund are brought in to discuss his work and dissect the recurring themes found in the stories. But as much as the documentary works as a cinematic essay on his work, it also serves as a biography of sorts that provides insight into who he was as a person.

The film explores how the elements of his personality that made him brilliant as an artist didn’t really translate into his home life as a husband and father, having had five wives, nine children and multiple other affairs throughout his life. His son Daniel attributes the almost childlike sense of exploration that his father always had to what kept him from being a better and more present father, as if he was closer to his own childhood memories than his own children.

The result is a deeply personal work from von Trotta that provides insight into the flawed genius of Ingmar Bergman, and the film will play equally well with both cinephiles as well as newcomers to Bergman’s work who are looking for an overview of his career before delving into his expansive filmography. It will make you want to watch a Bergman movie, and that’s a good thing.

Searching for Ingmar Bergman is now playing in limited release at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

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