Thursday, February 21, 2013

Ingmar Bergman - Novelist?


From a piece on Slate...

“I have maintained open channels with my childhood.  Sometimes in the night, when I am on the limit between sleeping and being awake, I can just go through a door into my childhood… I remember the silent street where my grandmother lived, the sudden aggressivity of the grown-up world, the terror of the unknown and the fear from the tension between my father and mother.”

Bergman told Michiko Kakutani the above for a Times Magazine profile in 1983, but I read the quote first in his obituary, which is where I also learned that, in addition to leaving behind nearly fifty films, he’d written three novels in his lifetime.  At the heart of this trilogy—written between 1990 and 1994, after he officially retired from directing—is his parents’ tumultuous courtship, and the ensuing long but unhappy marriage.  In the first installment, titled The Best Intentions, we are introduced to Henrik Bergman, a twenty-three year old divinity student.  Things aren’t going so well for young Henrik: in the opening scene of the book, he refuses to make amends with his dying grandmother, then fails his oral exams, knowing that his mother cannot afford to pay for the extra six months of schooling incurred.  On top of this, he has a sweet but simple fiancée, a big-bosomed waitress named Frida, but although they’ve been betrothed for two years and living together for almost as long, he hasn’t told anyone about her.  All Henrik’s struggles might be looked on as surmountable by a normal fellow, but a normal fellow Henrik is not.  No, Henrik is self-pitying, awkward, often unsympathetic, and moody.  As the narrator puts it, “[Henrik] lived in a mire of his own constraints and other people’s expectations.”  (It’s likely that the real-life Ingmar, who was estranged from his father for years, inherited his fader’s dyspepsia; in interviews, he often said he was a “humorless” child.)

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