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(Credit: Joost Evers / Anefo)

Film

Exploring the lesser-known Nazi past of Ingmar Bergman

Ingmar Bergman is undoubtedly one of the great pioneers of the cinematic medium. His influence is too large to be quantified, with critics, directors, students and audiences finding new elements in his films to this day. Bergman remains a towering figure in the history of cinema because of his enduring legacy and his invaluable contributions to the art form, remembered for masterpieces such as Fanny and Alexander as well as The Seventh Seal, among many others.

On multiple occasions, Bergman has publicly admitted that he was mesmerised by the “charismatic” speeches of the most hated political figure of the 20th century – Adolf Hitler. This fascination with Hitler’s persona and the sociopolitical tenets of Nazism started at an early age for Bergman, like it was the case for many other impressionable teenagers living in Europe at the time, and remained with him for a while.

Even in his own autobiography, Bergman recalled being interested in fascism as a teenager. His own father believed in extreme right wing politics and his brother was a member of the National League of Sweden – a youth organisation that had ties to the Nazis. When Bergman was 16, he attended a Nazi rally and left with the impression: “Hitler was unbelievably charismatic. He electrified the crowd. … The Nazism I had seen seemed fun and youthful”.

In later years, Bergman revealed that he changed his mind when all the reports about the concentration camps came out. According to a BBC interview, the acclaimed director was in shock and denial when the pictures of the Nazi atrocities were finally circulated in the press and he certainly wasn’t the only one. The collective psyche of the world was destabilised by the horrors of the Holocaust.

“When the doors to the concentration camps were thrown open, at first I did not want to believe my eyes,” Bergman said. He added that the contrast between his idealised vision of fascism and the reality of the concentration camps left him in a very bad state: “When the truth came out it was a hideous shock for me. In a brutal and violent way I was suddenly ripped of my innocence”.

These claims were further substantiated by another major Swedish figure in the landscape of cinema: Roy Andersson. When Andersson was in film school, Bergman served as a supervisor for student films and allegedly admonished students who were making films with leftist values and those who tried to openly criticise the Vietnam War. According to Andersson, Bergman was “overrated” and that his fascist values never really left him.

Andersson revealed in an interview: “He was a so-called inspector of the film school that I attended, and each term we were called and we had to go to his office and he gave some advice, or even some threats, and he said, ‘If you don’t stop making left wing movie…’ because a lot of the students were left wing at the time, Vietnam and so on… “if you continue with that you will never have the possibility to make features. I will influence the board to stop you”.

In addition to these revelations about Bergman’s politics, many critics and scholars have also pointed to a specific draft of his autobiography in which he admitted to raping his girlfriend Karin Lannby but that portion of the draft was left out when the autobiography was finally published.

Despite all of this, Bergman always maintained that he was an apolitical artist who was only interested in humans.