Liv Ullmann and Ingmar Bergman are the subjects of former architect Dheeraj Akolkar’s documentary Liv & Ingmar, produced by the Norwegian company NordicStories and distributed by Sweden’s Svensk Filmindustri. After meeting in 1965, Ullmann and Bergman made 10 (narrative) films together; they were also off-screen companions for five years.
In Liv & Ingmar, Ullmann, 73, is shown spending a few days in Bergman’s house on the Swedish island of Fårø.
While there, she reminisces about their personal and professional relationships. That sounds fascinating enough. But what makes Liv & Ingmar even more intriguing is that Ullmann’s recollections are interspersed with scenes from her Bergman films, which is supposed to show how their personal lives directly affected their professional collaboration.
We see an intense close up of Liv Ullmann's face. "This is a story of 5 decades and 2 friends.". As the camera lovingly embraces the details of a house, we hear the gentle waves on the rocky shore. "I have so many memories of the island, where I acted and directed. It was my home, as well. And I met Ingmar there. He changed my life," Liv tells us. "I was 24, he was 46." The desire was so intense it scared her, so she "ran back to Norway." He pursued her and she returned... got pregnant, divorced her husband and married Ingmar. That's the chapter she calls "Love."
The next chapter is "Loneliness." Ingmar built a dream house on Faro Island... his dream, not hers. He didn't want her to have any visitors, and whenever they weren't filming, he stayed in his study working. "I tried to love it as he did." Ingmar wasn't oblivious to Liv's feelings... he wrote most of them into his movies.
So as their relationship was falling apart, it was also playing out on the screen... they were painfully connected. When Liv left, the sorrow of their breakup was on front pages all over the world. Eventually, Liv went on to have a career apart from Ingmar. But when they both got past the pain, a lovely friendship developed and they made movies together again. It was a 42-year relationship, and while it was only sexually passionate in the beginning, it truly was a love story.
Thanks to footage from their many films and home movies shot by Sven Nykvist, one of Ingmar Bergman's cinematographer, combined with new footage, Liv & Ingmar is visually richer than a typical documentary. At times, you may find yourself forgetting that it is a documentary. Much of the content, story flow and dialogue comes from Liv Ullmann's book, "Changing." All the chapters are named for emotions... love, pain, friendship... and there are many interesting and moving interviews with Liv.
Even if you're not that familiar with their films, Liv & Ingmar is a beautiful love story. If you do know the films, it'll be a trip down memory lane. One of the many things that distinguished an Ingmar Bergman film was the cinematography, especially the close ups and the intimacy of the filming... a technique he used long before it became mainstream. Don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to search for and watch some of their films again. Both Liv and Ingmar made films with other people, but together they had a special alchemy. Perhaps Ingmar put it best when he said to Liv, "You were my Stradivarius."