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Vilgot Sjöman (I Am Curious -- Yellow 1967) and a crew from Swedish Television followed Ingmar Bergman during the filming of Winter Light and came away with a five-part documentary, including set construction, rehearsals, editing, and behind-the-camera conversations with Bergman and the cast and crew, and audience reactions to the film. Written by
Invaluable to the Bergman buff, recommendable to one who isn't
There is a bias in my adoration of this documentary, Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie (a companion piece to the recently released DVD box set of Bergman's "Silence of God" trilogy, featuring Through a Glass Darkly, Winter Light, and The Silence), in that Bergman is one my personal favorite directors from Europe. Each one of his films, even the lesser ones I've seen, are loaded with a passion for the material, for the actors, for the pure theatricality of the drama (or, every now and then, comedy) being presented.
It takes a little while to warm up to some of his more psychologically and emotionally heavy works, like Through a Glass Darkly, Cries and Whispers, and The Passion of Anna, but after viewing at least, if not more than, a dozen of his films, the serious film lover can obtain as pure and rewarding a catharsis as from the greatest works of all time. And, like the most mature of all filmmakers, he never panders to a film-goer's level of intelligence- what you see is what you got- and either you'll like his films for their level of intense human connectedness or distance and themes, or be put off by the lack of "mainstream" movie values.
This documentary, however, should be, if not as special to Bergman fans as to one who might have seen one or two of his films or none at all, a fitting volume of what it's like to make a film. From the very finish of the writing stage until its premiere, Vilgot Sjoman interviews and interjects his questions and his camera at Bergman and the production of Winter Light.
Aside from learning Bergman's influences and thoughts on the story and characters (aside from his personal connection- his father was a Lutheran priest- to the religious nature of the picture), the viewer sees the costume testing, the location scouting, the actual shooting process involved in one small scene, looking back once the film's shot, the editing process, and personal reflections on the directorial process. There is even the critics' responses, which is perhaps the one downside to seeing the documentary before seeing the film it's about- you may be intrigued by the details, but you don't want to get spoiled with information.
One of the great strengths of the series of interviews is that Sjoman's questions are direct, concise, and bring out details from Bergman that would be harder for other journalists to conjure up. There is so much information extracted as to what it's like to make a film, to work with the actors, to get the little things right as much as the character's emotions, when and why to cut in editing, the rhythm of a film. For a film-viewer not familiar with Bergman the doc might even turn them on to him simply by his methods and philosophies.
And for the fan, such as myself, there is a lot of insight that would be missing from certain books, such as the humor that goes on between him and his actors in-between takes. It's a finite, unique time capsule of cinema, even if you don't think Winter Light is all that great.
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