In 1951, Ingmar Bergman found himself in a bit of a pickle. The Swedish production companies had decided to declare a ban on filming in protest of the high rate of tax on entertainment. Bergman, whose contract with Gothenberg City Theatre had just expired, had recently married, meaning he now had three families to support. That year, the celebrated director decided that he would earn his income by whatever means necessary, even if it meant lowering himself to the world of advertising.
Enter Bris Soap. To keep the wolf from the door, Bergman decided to direct nine commercials for the soap manufacturer on behalf of Swedish Uniliver. Never one to miss an opportunity, the director employed his cinematic mastery to push domestic advertising into the realm of high art.
As Sweden’s greatest living director, Bergman was used to receiving huge amounts of funding for his feature films. He recieved the same treatment for the Bris project, with the director using the same technical equipment he would have used on a feature film. He also employed his usual cinematographer Gunnar Fischer as a cameraman. Bergman had absolute control over the project, from the screenplay right through to the final edit.
Made on commission, these films are a stunning example of how creative limits can breed creative brilliance. Operation, a strikingly modernist piece that seems to foreshadow the meta-cinematic style of Persona, takes place inside a film studio where a production company are making an advert for Bris. 3D, meanwhile, takes place inside a cinema where a 3-D film about Bris is being screened. Incidentally, Bergman was a vocal critic of indulgent special effects like 3-D, calling them “ridiculously stupid and ugly”.
Opening up about his decision to do the Bris commercials, Bergman said: “Originally, I accepted the Bris commercials in order to save the lives of my self and my families. But that was really secondary. The primary reason I wanted to make the commercials was that I was given free rein with money and I could do exactly what I wanted with the product’s message”.
He added: “Anyhow, I have always found it difficult to feel resentment when industry comes rushing toward culture, check in hand. My whole cinematic career has been sponsored by private capital. I have never been able to live on my beautiful eyes alone! As an employer, capitalism is brutally honest and rather generous – when it deems it beneficial. Never do you doubt your day-to-day value – a useful experience which will toughen you.”
See the clips, below.