Swedish actress Bibi Andersson is known around the world for her fantastic collaborations with the great Ingmar Bergman, including masterpieces like The Seventh Seal and Persona among others. Born in Stockholm, Andersson studied acting at the prestigious Royal Dramatic Theatre and started working with Bergman as early as 1951, contributing to the production of an advertisement for a detergent.
Andersson’s work with Bergman earned her critical acclaim and several accolades like a Best Actress win at the Cannes Film Festival. She was also an impressive presence in the landscape of American cinema, appearing in films like Duel at Diablo and John Huston’s The Kremlin Letter. Andersson worked on American theatrical productions and even directed her own plays in Sweden towards the end of her career.
“Of course Bergman is a genius,” the actress said in a 1977 interview, “But except for a small part in Scenes from a Marriage, I haven’t worked for him in so long. I started working, really, with Bergman (in ‘The Seventh Seal’) when I was 19, and my respect for him was so enormous that it was like working for him — not co-working. For him I’m still a little girl.”
She added, “I have worked 20 years. I started acting when I was 16, but I don’t really count my working until I was 20. I never have been an actress of that kind of beauty, never got jobs because of that kind of beauty…Part of an actress is aliveness, alertness, and it comes from not letting yourself stiffen. I wanted to see life, wanted to smell it, and I felt starving, mentally.”
As a tribute to the great Bibi Andersson on the anniversary of her death, we revisit her illustrious filmography and take a look at six definitive films.
Bibi Andersson’s 6 definitive films:
The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman – 1957)
Many consider this 1957 masterpiece to be Ingmar Bergman’s magnum opus and they have valid reasons for believing that. The Seventh Seal transcends the limitations of cinema, transforming into a philosophical meditation on the human condition and religion. Andersson plays the part of Mia, the wife of a travelling performer named Jof (played by Nils Poppe).
In an interview, Bergman said: “My fear of death—this infantile fixation of mine—was, at that moment, overwhelming. I felt myself in contact with death day and night, and my fear was tremendous. When I finished the picture, my fear went away. I have the feeling simply of having painted a canvas in an enormous hurry—with enormous pretension but without any arrogance.”
Persona (Ingmar Bergman – 1966)
Bergman’s Persona and Hiroshi Teshigahara’s The Face of Another are two of the best films ever made on the subject of individual identity. Andersson stars as a nurse who is tasked with the responsibility of looking after a sick actress (played by Liv Ullmann). Persona launches a powerful investigation of gender, fractured psyches and the concept of duality.
Andersson commented, “It’s a film that only has two roles, two female roles. I cannot give you any more details on the film. I don’t want to do it. In addition, it’s very difficult. But it’s a film that was very important for me, because it’s a film that covers a very important theme: the theme of man’s identity, and of the possibility of bringing humans together.”
Duel at Diablo (Ralph Nelson – 1966)
Based on the 1957 novel Apache Rising by American novelist Marvin H. Albert, Duel at Diablo stars James Garner as a frontier scout who is on a hunt for his wife’s murderer. He runs into Ellen (played by Andersson) who is being pursued by Apache Natives.
The film also features Sidney Poitier as a horse breaker who joins the fight. Although Duel at Diablo is rough around the edges, the film is a memorable example of Andersson’s versatility while performing in the US. It is also a visual spectacle, presenting the silent grandeur of landscapes that are usually associated with the genre.
The Passion of Anna (Ingmar Bergman – 1969)
The Passion of Anna stars Max von Sydow as Andreas, a man who has chosen to live in solitude on a remote island after a recent divorce. He has an affair with Eva (played by Andersson), the wife of his friend Elis. However, his real romantic interest is a mysterious widow named Anna (Liv Ullmann).
Built on the foundations of Bergman’s 1968 film Shame, the filmmaker considered The Passion of Anna as “virtually a sequel.” The film is now regarded as one of Bergman’s best, a drama that beautifully examines our fundamental isolation as well as the fleeting comfort of interpersonal relationships.
The Kremlin Letter (John Huston – 1970)
John Huston’s 1970 neo-noir boasts an impressive cast, ranging from Orson Welles to Richard Boone. Andersson stars in this impressive spy thriller as Erika, the wife of Colonel Yakov Kosnov who gets entangled in international espionage and political intrigue.
The Kremlin Letter was a commercial failure but it has been rightly praised for its vision of a world that is absolutely ruthless. Based on Noel Behn’s novel, the film effectively explores the political situations during the height of the Cold War.
An Enemy of the People (George Schaefer – 1978)
A film adaptation of Arthur Miller’s version of Henrik Ibsen’s 1882 play, An Enemy of the People stars Steve McQueen as a scientist who lives in a small Norwegian town with his wife (played by Andersson). The town tries to market nearby springs for tourism but he discovers that they are actually contaminated by industrial pollutants.
The actress explained, “Steve McQueen is very American, and they didn’t want me to stick out. Oh — I shouldn’t have said that, but you know I don’t think anyone can overcome that. I tried to speak well. But I could never be an all-American person. More than the language, there are things I would have to overcome.”