Saturday, January 4, 2014

Film Review: Liv & Ingmar

"Liv & Ingmar"  *** (out of ****)

"Liv & Ingmar" (2014) is a lovely tribute to film maker Ingmar Bergman and actress Liv Ullmann. Bergman was one of the great film makers in world cinema, and, for me, the greatest. Ullmann was a frequent collaborator, working on a total of 11 feature films together including "Scenes From A Marriage" (1974), "Cries & Whispers" (1973), "The Passion of Anna" (1970) and "Face to Face" (1976) among them. She was his muse and together they are one of the great director / actor teams in all of cinema on par with Scorsese and De Niro, Woody Allen and Mia Farrow and Josef von Sternberg and Marlene Dietrich.

However, don't walk into "Liv & Ingmar" expecting a searing look into their work together. A documentary on Bergman's career and his place in cinema or for that matter Liv Ullmann's place. The movie does not dwell on the critical reception their films received or the influence it had on future generations.

I mention this for two reasons. One, people may expect a documentary called "Liv & Ingmar" to be about their work together. Two, a "movie critic" wrote a review in the Chicago Tribune complaining the documentary doesn't do these things and when clips are shown in the movie there is never a reference to which film it is. I'll explain why it doesn't matter but first, how sad that this is the state of film criticism when a "critic" is published in a newspaper, gives his/her opinion of a film and doesn't know what they are talking about. They don't understand the intention of the film. How sad. How very sad.

"Liv & Ingmar" explores Liv Ullmann's and Ingmar Bergman's personal, off-camera relationship. When they first worked together on Bergman's masterpiece, "Persona" (1967), the two began an affair. Both were married at the time and there was a roughly 20 year difference between them (Ingmar was the older one). Since Ingmar died in 2007 at the age of 89 it is Liv Ullmann who is mainly on-screen for the entire length of the documentary, except when clips of films are shown and even then the clips are of Ullmann.

She discusses the good times and bad times of their relationship and what life was like on Ingmar's private island, Faro. She explains his jealousy and controlling nature and how their relationship changed and her inner change with the birth of their daughter. And the pain she felt at their breakup and how she moved on with her career when she came to America. But through it all she and Ingmar remained friends. Not just because of their daughter but because they were two connected spirits who understood one another and whom despite everything, loved one another.

Of course we are only getting Ullmann's side of the story. And every problem in their relationship seems to have started because of Ingmar's actions. I never heard her once say an argument was her fault. Or she did something wrong. However that, I suppose, is not really the point.

Even though the movie is called "Liv & Ingmar" it could have very easily been called "John & Jane", meaning, this story could have been about any two lovers that have had a complicated life together. It just so happens in this case to be the life of two famous celebrities. The movie is more so about their bond and love for each other, not about their movies together.

Yes, Liv talks about her career. She shares some stories of what it was like on the set of some of Bergman's movies and how he would take out his anger on her during set giving harsh directions or putting her through extreme working conditions, but, she and the documentary always go back to their personal time together and their love. That is the whole point of the documentary.

Now, about the director, Dheeraj Akolkar, not telling us the names of the movies he shows clips us. It doesn't matter because the clips could have been taken from any movie by any director. What this said to me was how art reflects life or vice-versa. The clips are shown when Ullmann discusses painful moments in the relationship and the clips inserted give us a visual of a similar moment in one of Bergman's films. The film itself doesn't matter. The clip is not about the particular film but rather the emotion and ideas which the clip conveys exploring how Bergman would use his personal life in his films. How the films are sometimes a reflection of Bergman's life and we have Ullmann putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Explaining the context. Plus, if you are a Bergman fan, you are going to know which films the clips come from.

But, that leads to a different discussion. Who is going to watch this documentary? Who is the intended audience? The answer would seem only those who already know who Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann are. This is not a good introduction into the life and work of Ingmar Bergman or Liv Ullmann. The casual movie fan may not enjoy this. May not understand why these people would be the subject of a documentary. That is understandable, because, as I said, this is about Liv &
Ingmar's relationship and love for one another not a critical look at their work.

After watching this documentary you may find it interesting to see "Faithless" (2001, which I have reviewed). It is a movie Ingmar Bergman wrote and Liv Ullmann directed dealing with the guilt associated with an affair. It has largely been interpreted as dealing with the affair Liv & Ingmar had.