Swedish film icon Ingmar Bergman dies at 89

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) - Sweden’s Ingmar Bergman, who influenced a generation of film-makers with his often stark works about mortality and sexual torment, died on Monday aged 89.

Ingmar Bergman in a 1981 photo. Bergman died on Monday at the age of 89, local news agency TT reported, citing his daughter Eva Bergman. REUTERS/Jacob Forsell/File

The self-taught director and scriptwriter died in the morning at his home on Faro Island in the Baltic Sea, said Cissi Elwin, chief executive of the Swedish Film Institute.

Sweden and the global film community lamented the death of an icon.

“He was one of the great ones,” Jorn Donner, producer of “Fanny and Alexander”, Bergman’s last work for the big screen which won four Oscars, told Reuters.

Elwin said Bergman, in a wheelchair and seeming very tired, had appeared briefly this month at an annual celebration of his career on Faro Island.

“It’s a very big loss today,” she said. “It’s very, very strange and very unreal because Ingmar Bergman is so much (a part of) Swedish film.”

Bergman was famed for films such as “Wild Strawberries”, “Scenes From a Marriage” and “Fanny and Alexander”, which gave Sweden a reputation for melancholy and made him an acknowledged master of modern cinema.

He made 54 films, 126 theatre productions and 39 radio plays. His cinematic masterpieces often dwelt on sexual confusion, loneliness and the vain search for the meaning of life -- themes he ascribed to a traumatic childhood in which he was beaten by his father, a Lutheran minister.

He told Reuters in a rare interview in 2001 that personal demons tormented and inspired him throughout his life.

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“The demons are innumerable, appear at the most inconvenient times and create panic and terror,” he said at the time. “But I have learnt that if I can master the negative forces and harness them to my chariot, then they can work to my advantage.”

The heavily autobiographical “Fanny and Alexander” tells the story of an upper-class family in the city of Uppsala before World War One.

The boy protagonist Alexander and his sister Fanny are mentally and physically abused by their stepfather -- a bishop modeled on Bergman’s father. Alexander at last uses supernatural powers to take a sinister revenge.


Bergman gained international recognition with “The Seventh Seal”, a 1956 film in which a Crusader searching for God plays chess with a personified Death. Film directors all over the world have named him as an inspiration.

Woody Allen idolized him, paying homage to “The Seventh Seal” in his early comedy “Love and Death”.

“He was a friend and truly the best director in my lifetime,” Allen told Sweden’s Aftonbladet newspaper. “I was very sad to hear that he has passed away.”

Danish director Bille August, who won the 1992 Palme d’Or at Cannes for “The Best Intentions”, a movie based on a script Bergman wrote about his parents, said the Swede was a trusted friend who would listen to his doubts.

“It was a real shock to me because he was the last big director left,” August said of Bergman’s death.

“He left a big vacuum behind.”

Oscar-winning Polish director Andrzej Wajda said it was Bergman’s “absolute isolation” that impressed him.

“He created great art, and for us -- movie directors -- he gave hope, a belief, that if we wanted to say something about ourselves, the world would notice,” he told Polish news agency


At home in Sweden, government and cultural officials and the media also lined up to pay tribute to one of the most famous Swedes.

“His works are immortal,” Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said.

Elwin said the Swedish Film Institute planned a memorial night in August and would invite film historians and colleagues from the acting world to pay tribute to Bergman’s career.

He won Academy Awards for best foreign language film in 1960, 1961 and 1983, and a collection of his work was last month added to the UNESCO store of history’s greatest archives.

Although he stepped away from the big screen after “Fanny and Alexander”, he subsequently directed a number of television productions up to 2003 when he made “Saraband”.

Off stage, Bergman’s private life often took the limelight. He was married five times to beautiful and gifted women and had liaisons with his leading actresses. Bergman had nine children.

Eventually, he settled on Faro -- or “sheep” -- island off Sweden’s southeast coast, where he had shot seven films.

Additional reporting by Fredrika Bernadotte, Helena Soderpalm and Adam Cox in Stockholm, Terhi Kinnunen in Helsinki and David Cutler in London