My 12 Favorite Ingmar Bergman Movies

It’s the year of Ingmar Bergman. The master filmmaker would have been 100 years old and his legacy has been celebrated all year, far beyond Sweden’s borders. He remains one of my favorite directors – few others have been able to penetrate our deepest and darkest emotions in such frequently powerful ways. Bergman’s films have always been a must thanks to his dialogue, the actors and the superior work of his cinematographers.

Here are my favorites among his output.

1 The Seventh Seal

1957-Sweden. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Max von Sydow, Gunnar Björnstrand, Nils Poppe.

What I wrote: “Watching Bergman’s perhaps greatest masterpiece, The Seventh Seal, makes one think of not only how groundbreaking it was in its time but how intellectually challenging it is. Nowadays, few Swedish films try to achieve what Bergman was looking for.”

2 Fanny and Alexander

1982-Sweden-France-West Germany. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Pernilla Allwin, Bertil Guwe, Gunn Wållgren.

What I wrote: “The opulent portrait of turn-of-the-century bourgeois Christmas festivities has captured the imagination of anyone who’s ever seen the film. In Sweden, ‘a Fanny and Alexander Christmas’ has become a familiar concept.”

3 Wild Strawberries

1957-Sweden. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Victor Sjöström, Gunnar Björnstrand, Ingrid Thulin.

What I wrote: “Great beauty in the story – and in the way the film is conceived by Bergman and cinematographer Gunnar Fischer, as they find so many fascinating, intimate moments of light and darkness throughout this road movie.”

4 Smiles of a Summer Night

1955-Sweden. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Gunnar Björnstrand, Ulla Jacobsson, Björn Bjelfvenstam.

What I wrote: “Not every critic fell in love with the film upon its release; some of them labeled it ‘pornographic’. A ludicrous charge. I prefer to call it a perfect marriage between cynicism and sensuality, which is the stuff of most great romantic comedies made since.”

5 The Virgin Spring

1960-Sweden. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Max von Sydow, Birgitta Valberg, Gunnel Lindblom.

What I wrote: “Much as Bergman was clearly inspired by Kurosawa, The Virgin Spring also had an effect on Wes Craven, the director who based his first movie, The Last House on the Left (1972), on this medieval drama. He built a career in horror on it, pushing limits in a society that wasn’t quite prepared for it. Bergman must have sympathized.”

6 Sawdust and Tinsel

1953-Sweden. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Åke Grönberg, Harriet Andersson, Hasse Ekman.

What I wrote: “The visual style and rural setting make you wonder if perhaps The Seventh Seal (1957) was just a stone’s throw away from the ideas Bergman had while listening to those actors at his hotel in Stockholm – it’s as if this film made him see the world in a grander (perhaps a bit more Italian?) way than his previous projects.”

7 Cries and Whispers

1972-Sweden. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Harriet Andersson, Kari Sylwan, Ingrid Thulin.

What I wrote: “The film was nominated for several Academy Awards and is now regarded as one of the master’s finest efforts. Maybe there is no God, but standing at Bergman’s grave, enjoying the sun and the strong breeze of the ocean, and then watching this film, kind of makes you wonder if he wasn’t divinely blessed after all.”

8 Through a Glass Darkly

1962-Sweden. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Harriet Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand, Max von Sydow.

What I wrote: “There are only four actors in the film, but they all deliver tremendously effective performances. Björnstrand is terrific as the grief-stricken writer who lacks self-esteem, and Andersson is hypnotic in perhaps her best screen role as the young woman who’s struggling with the burden of having several, intense personalities.”

9 Winter Light

1963-Sweden. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Gunnar Björnstrand, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnel Lindblom.

What I wrote: “Coldly and strikingly shot, the movie’s cinematography lives up to its title. There’s something fascinating (and at times mildly humorous) about the pastor’s routines in that sleepy, thousand-year-old church; as always, Bergman captures the hidden passion and sorrow underneath it all.”

10 Persona 

1966-Sweden. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Bibi Andersson, Liv Ullmann, Margaretha Krook.

What I wrote: “As the final moments of the film make clear, this is also a comment on the actual process of filmmaking. In other words, there are endless opportunities to get hooked by what you’re seeing here; it’s like Bergman is offering the complete fireworks of his mind.”

11 Shame

1968-Sweden. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Liv Ullmann, Max von Sydow, Sigge Fürst.

What I wrote: “Those of us who haven’t lived through war have no idea what we’ll do in similar situations to survive. Our actions may be heroic or utterly shameful. Bergman’s choice to explore those sentiments in a more general way, and not Vietnam specifically, is one reason why we can see this movie today and not have to begin with putting politics from almost 50 years ago aside.”

12 Autumn Sonata

1978-West Germany-France. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Liv Ullmann, Lena Nyman.

What I wrote: “During the making of this film, director Ingmar Bergman was going through several crises (not least fighting government auditors) but it doesn’t really show in this passionate, guilt-laden drama.”

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