Searching for Ingmar Bergman takes viewers to his island

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      A documentary by Margarethe von Trotta, Bettina Böhler, and Felix Moeller. In English, Swedish, and German, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      The second documentary this season to tackle the great Swedish director’s life and work, Searching for Ingmar Bergman is both less comprehensive and more personal than Jane Magnusson’s Bergman: A Year in the Life.

      Although the other movie delved further into the ascetic auteur’s private life and sometimes public demons, the personal here comes mainly from German filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta, talking to colleagues and Bergman intimates about the processes, and problems, behind his art.

      Born in 1942, von Trotta grew up enraptured by the postwar work of the experimental Swede, a quarter-century older. She begins her search on the island of Fårö, home to his latter years, on the beach where Max von Sydow played chess with death in The Seventh Seal. The younger filmmaker, who started as an actor, broke through in 1975, with The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, directed with then husband Volker Schlöndorff (who later made The Tin Drum and an early version of The Handmaid’s Tale). She was amazed to find that her 1981 Marianne and Juliane made Bergman’s own list of 10 all-time masterpieces, alongside works by Chaplin, Fellini, and Kurosawa.

      Here, she travels to Stockholm, Munich, and Paris to talk to several generations of contemporaries and filmmakers still under his spell. These include Liv Ullman, of course, and directors such as Olivier Assayas and Carlos Saura. The Spanish veteran comments on Bergman’s gradual retreat from the religious themes that dominated the early efforts from this troubled son of a preacher man. “Little by little, God becomes less present, and men and women are left to their own devices.” Indeed, Bergman’s moves toward abstraction, as embodied by Persona, and dreamlike humanism, as in the autumnal Wild Strawberries, remain his most influential strains.

      There’s not a lot of film analysis, although several filmmakers note that his move to digital cinema, for 2003’s Saraband (a sequel, by the way, to Scenes From a Marriage, 30 years later), was an early adoption by any standard. Bergman was 85 at the time.

      Most revealing are his sons, and a grandson, from different marriages, who visit their negligent patriarch’s book-lined Fårö retreat with a mixture of regret and amused resignation. Most intriguing is a long chat with French writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve, who spent much time there, preparing for a film not mentioned but due next year: Bergman’s Island. She used to live with Assayas, by the way; the twinned themes of family and film never leave the screen. In fact, von Trotta directed this with Felix Moeller, son of her first marriage. He must have some stories to tell.