Film Review: ‘Searching for Ingmar Bergman’

It was more or less inevitable that the centenary of Ingmar Bergman (he was born on July 14, 1918) would be commemorated with a reverent film portrait of the legendary Swedish director’s life and work. But here’s where we’ve been lucky: The year has given us not one but two world-class, eye-and-mind-opening Bergman documentaries. The most haunting of the two, “Bergman — A Year in a Life” (which I reviewed at Cannes), has yet to be released in the U.S. But anyone with a passion for Bergman should make a point of seeking out Margarethe von Trotta’s “Searching for Ingmar Bergman,” which opens this week. It’s an investigation in the form of a highly personalized meditation.

It’s also a documentary that bubbles over with anecdote and insight (did you know that “Dallas,” the TV series, was an influence on “Scenes from a Marriage”?). Von Trotta, a directorial legend in her own right, opens “Searching for Ingmar Bergman” in a stunning way, with images of herself strolling along the overcast nook of stony beach where Max von Sydow’s knight first woke up in “The Seventh Seal” to encounter that cloaked chess player known as Death. “This is where it all began for me,” says von Trotta, a seemingly simple statement that’s encoded with meaning. “The Seventh Seal,” released in 1957, was the first Bergman film she ever saw — and, in fact, it was the first Bergman film that a lot of people saw. It remains his most mythological work: a magical vision of medieval squalor that speaks to modern sensibilities, to our anguished tangle of fear and longing and fractured faith.