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The Bergman Universe: Panel Discussion
by Birgit Schrumpf

A satisfying rounding-off of my Bergman experience at the Berlinale was the panel discussion “The Bergman Universe” with one of Bergman’s favourite actresses Harriet Andersson and filmmaker Stig Björkman in conversation with Peter Cowie. This event was in English and free of charge to the public.

It turned out to be an intimate and relaxed talk. Harriet Andersson talked easily and openly about her relationship with Bergman, how she first met him when she was still a very young girl: “He was a married man and I was engaged to a young man. It all just broke up - and we simply stayed together.”

She complained that she was getting to play the role of maids or working class women and Bibi Andersson (no relations) or Liv Ullman got the pretty parts. Ever so often she had to play the sick and dying one. Grudgingly – but with a smile – she says: “He started by first making me a maid, then the crazy one, and then he killed me off a couple of times.”

She felt that she had to correct some rumours that Bergman had been rough and brutal to his actresses. This was simply not true. He could be jealous and angry, but he was mostly relaxed and a very generous man. He liked to involve everyone in the process of making a movie and made copies of the script for all the crew, also for the technicians. It is customary that only the first director usually gets a copy. They had fun on set when working together. “Yes, we had a lot of fun; there was always some fun underneath everything,” she emphasizes. But he was also very critical especially of himself. When he sat down with the actors and actresses to talk about their roles, it was like having rehearsals, like in the theatre; therefore a scene very seldom had to be taken twice. He called a close-up a “landscape of the soul” – and Ms Andersson said, “These are the most magical moments in his films”.

She described another little characteristic: “Bergman could also be very pushy; once he sent me the script of Through a Glass Darkly. He questioned me about it and I declined the role. Why? – It’s too difficult for me. I can’t do it. – Bullshit, he said. And then he simply showed me how to play the role of the schizophrenic ‘inside the head’. He was very good that way.”

The subject of tax evasion only came up briefly. Eventually the charges had been dropped but it left Bergman depressed and misunderstood. Andersson said he was never a rich man and laughingly added: “He had to keep on working hard as he had to pay alimonies, he had so many children, he never learned.”

This very sympathetic unpretentious actress performed on stage as well as on screen all of her life, about 90 roles in all. One of her latest most notable appearances was 2003 in Lars von Trier’s Dogville. Ingmar Bergman called Harriet Andersson “one of the finest actresses in the world. I think the camera loves the particles that surround Harriet, and that she likes them too.”

In 2010 Harriet Andersson, who was born in February 1932, received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Stockholm International Film Festival.