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(Credit: Joost Evers / Anefo)

Film

The one director Ingmar Bergman called "the greatest"

Ingmar Bergman has gone down in movie history as one of the most prolific and influential auteurs to ever touch the cinematic medium. Over the course of his illustrious career, Bergman made around 60 films (counting his documentaries as well) and directed around 170 stage productions which are still being discovered by many of his fans as well as scholars of cinema.

The Swedish director was an indispensable part of the European tradition of filmmaking whose masterpieces such as The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries are regularly cited as the greatest films of all time. Through his cinematic investigations of spirituality, religion, mortality and the human condition, Bergman provided solace and revelations to many lost souls who sought refuge in his unique cinema.

As is natural, Bergman certainly did not operate in a bubble and was routinely asked about his opinions on his contemporaries who were busy with their own pioneering innovations. While he publicly disparaged filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard for his needless intellectualisation of cinema, Bergman defended others like Martin Scorsese when critics were attacking him for the violence in Taxi Driver.

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Bergman also did not care for the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and claimed that he was superficially obsessed with the aesthetic elements of cinema rather than the spiritual transformations that the medium was capable of enabling. However, there was one particular contemporary of Bergman whom he admired the most and always referred to him as “the greatest of them all.”

That director was none other than Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky, a true luminary whose flawless filmography contains enigmatic opuses such as Solaris and Stalker. Just like Bergman’s films, Tarkovsky’s poetic meditations are constantly cited by admirers and younger filmmakers as some of the greatest experiments in the history of cinema. For once, Bergman agreed with the general consensus.

“My discovery of Tarkovsky’s first film was like a miracle,” Bergman revealed, while talking about Ivan’s Childhood. Based on a short story by Vladimir Bogomolov, this masterpiece of Soviet cinema follows an orphaned boy as he endures the atrocities of the second World War after his parents are killed by the German army. It is now regarded as one of the greatest coming-of-age films of all time.

The film had a magically transformative on Bergman who explained the feeling of discovering a Tarkovsky film as “standing at the door of a room the keys of which had, until then, never been given to me”. He claimed that he had always wanted to enter that door but he never knew how to but seeing Tarkovsky “moving freely and fully at ease” in that very room pushed him to express himself in a different way.

The director declared: “Tarkovsky is for me the greatest, the one who invented a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream.” According to Bergman, the cinema of Tarkovsky revealed to him that there was something he had always wanted to articulate but he never knew how to until Tarkovsky opened his eyes.

Coincidentally, this admiration was mutual. Tarkovsky had expressed his love for pioneers such as Sergei Parajanov and Jean Vigo on multiple occasions but he always maintained that the filmmakers he was most fascinated by were Robert Bresson and Ingmar Bergman. Tarkovsky insisted: “I am only interested in the views of two people: one is called Bresson and one called Bergman.”

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