Revelations

Margarethe von Trotta on Daniel Bergman, Olivier Assayas and more in Searching For Ingmar Bergman

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Margarethe von Trotta on Olivier Assayas, Stig Björkman and Ingmar Bergman: "They went in 1990 for five days to Stockholm to make a big interview with Bergman for Cahiers du Cinéma ..."
Margarethe von Trotta on Olivier Assayas, Stig Björkman and Ingmar Bergman: "They went in 1990 for five days to Stockholm to make a big interview with Bergman for Cahiers du Cinéma ..." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

In the second half of my conversation on Searching For Ingmar Bergman with Margarethe von Trotta, we discuss Daniel Bergman and his father, Victor Sjöström's The Phantom Carriage, Winter Light and Ingrid Thulin, Ruben Östlund filming Margarethe, Jean-Claude Carrière, Fanny and Alexander, Cries And Whispers, Marianne & Juliane.

The connections to Olivier Assayas and the supernatural in Personal Shopper (see the impressive Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future exhibition currently on view at the Guggenheim Museum in New York), Stig Björkman, Wild Strawberries and Alfonso Cuarón's ROMA appeared.

Liv Ullmann with Margarethe von Trotta in Searching For Ingmar Bergman
Liv Ullmann with Margarethe von Trotta in Searching For Ingmar Bergman

Margarethe von Trotta has had a remarkable career working with her longtime cinematographer Franz Rath on The Second Awakening Of Christa Klages; Sisters, or The Balance Of Happiness; Rosa Luxemburg; and her four-part film adaptation of Uwe Johnson's Jahrestage (Anniversaries), and with Caroline Champetier on Hannah Arendt, starring Barbara Sukowa. As an actress she had teamed with Volker Schlöndorff for Coup De Grâce and with Rainer Werner Fassbinder for The American Soldier, Beware Of A Holy Whore and Gods Of The Plague.

I started out asking the inaugural Ulfers Foundation Award honouree about her intimate interview with Daniel Bergman in Searching For Ingmar Bergman.

Anne-Katrin Titze: When Daniel Bergman is talking about his father, that is the most telling interview in the film. He says: "He said to the ladies when they were pregnant 'Now I know you love me.' And then he left them."

And your face when he says that! That moment is great. You do not expect this at all and there is this beautiful pause.

Margarethe von Trotta: Also when he says "I don't miss him. And I don't miss my mother."

Margarethe von Trotta on Jean-Claude Carrière's comment about guilt and the switch in Bergman from God being present: "It's always always there until the end. But it's less."
Margarethe von Trotta on Jean-Claude Carrière's comment about guilt and the switch in Bergman from God being present: "It's always always there until the end. But it's less." Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: "Not for a moment".

MvT: I missed my mother so much. And someone tells me he's regretting nothing and missing nothing - that is hard to hear. And hard to bear also for himself.

AKT: The moment when he said that - not for a second did he miss him. It was a very personal revelation, the fact that Daniel Bergman can express this to you. Olivier Assayas is also in your documentary. He utilises the supernatural in Bergman ways, in Personal Shopper for example [Hilma af Klint is obsessed over by Kristen Stewart's Maureen in the film].

MvT: Yes, he [Olivier] was very influenced by Bergman. And he was with Bergman, together with Stig Björkman - they went in 1990 for five days to Stockholm to make a big interview with Bergman for Cahiers du Cinéma and then in Germany it came out as a little book also. Before I went to Olivier, I read all that he had written.

I knew that he knew Bergman, not well, but he [Bergman] liked his first film L'Enfant D'Hiver (Winter's Child). Bergman saw every film. He liked to see the films of others. That was a big difference to Fellini who never saw a film of somebody else.

AKT: The fact that The Phantom Carriage by Victor Sjöström was Bergman's favourite! There again is the supernatural that has to be contained, controlled, in some way shaped in order to hold it in place.

Margarethe von Trotta on Olivier Assayas: "Before I went to Olivier, I read all that he had written."
Margarethe von Trotta on Olivier Assayas: "Before I went to Olivier, I read all that he had written."

MvT: Yes.

AKT: The longest clip from any Bergman film you show is the one from Winter Light.

MvT: With Ingrid Thulin?That's cruel, no? My god, what he is saying to this woman! Terrible. That a man says that to you! In a way he is very helpless too, this man [the pastor played by Gunnar Björnstrand]. You know the film, I suppose?

AKT: I do. But I noticed the scene is changing; with every viewing I have different feelings about it. It is this immense cruelty, this attempted destruction of her. At the same time, I am thinking - who are you, monster, doing this? There is no reason. It switched from an earlier viewing's pity for her - this woman must feel destroyed - to a look at this ridiculous man.

MvT: In a way he is ridiculous also. He is cruel, he's a monster but he is also doing this out of helplessness. His real wife is dead and he loved this wife very much and this wife was stronger than he was. And now he tries also to be stronger in front of the other woman. In a way it's a very, very deep film but it's also a terrible film.

AKT: I agree. I recently watched again Cries And Whispers.

Margarethe von Trotta on interviewing Ruben Östlund on Ingmar Bergman: "Somebody had to come from Germany! That was very funny."
Margarethe von Trotta on interviewing Ruben Östlund on Ingmar Bergman: "Somebody had to come from Germany! That was very funny."

MvT: That's another one.

AKT: He goes so far. With pain! Who else presented pain like this?

MvT: Because he had a lot of pain. He was very often ill and he had always stomach problems. So he knows about physical illness but also about psychical illness. He was three times in his life in a psychiatric clinic.

He was always on the border of perhaps a sort of madness. He put all that in his films and he could survive, I think, also with the help of his films.

AKT: Somebody says in your film that Bergman decided not to go to therapy because he would lose too much.

MvT: It was a danger to lose the creativity. He didn't for sure. Who wants to lose their creativity? If you proposed that to me! It's the only thing you have against your depression. If that creativity is taken away from you what's left then?

AKT: Nothing.

MvT: Nothing.

Margarethe von Trotta's four-part film adaptation of Uwe Johnson's masterwork Jahrestage (Anniversaries) will be introduced by Anne-Katrin Titze
Margarethe von Trotta's four-part film adaptation of Uwe Johnson's masterwork Jahrestage (Anniversaries) will be introduced by Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: Years and years ago, there was an interview with David Lynch, I believe, where he said the same thing. That he went to therapy one time and then realised it would interfere too much with his creativity and what he was doing.

MvT: I was also went once. Because my mother, when she died, she came up to me as a ghost soon afterwards. Not only in my dreams, she came and wanted to strangle me. And she was always the loveliest mother in the world. That was so much the opposite of what I knew from her that I thought now I'd become crazy.

I went to a psychoanalyst. I went ten times or so, and then she said: "You are not in danger to become mad. Put all that in your own films! That's much better to put that in your films than to tell all that to me." So I went away and did my films.

AKT: Good advice!

MvT: Wonderful advice, no? She was very intelligent to see that. That was after my second film.

AKT: Was that dream right after your mother died?

MvT: She died in '79. And I always thought I was the only child. Then after six months another woman wrote me a letter saying that she's my sister. And my mother never told me. That was such a shock for me. Maybe then after these news she came up and wanted to strangle me.

Searching For Ingmar Bergman poster at the Quad Cinema - opens in New York on November 2
Searching For Ingmar Bergman poster at the Quad Cinema - opens in New York on November 2 Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

And it was not in a dream. I went to bed and I turned off the light. And then all of a sudden the door opened and she stood there and said my name and came up to me like this [Margarethe makes a strangulation hand gesture]. And I [she looks startled] turned the light on. For one year or so I couldn't sleep in the dark.

AKT: You clearly don't need Bergman's house to be in touch with spookiness. Was that the only time you had an encounter like that?

MvT: Yes. No, sometimes I have a feeling that people who are dead are coming to me. I feel a certain existence, a certain what do you say?

AKT: Presence? And you know who it is?

MvT: Yeah. But I don't fear it. It was only my mother who was really very …

AKT: It makes sense, if you allow, in connection to finding out the secret that you never knew during her lifetime. Jean-Claude Carrière talks about guilt and the switch in Bergman from God being present in the beginning of his career and then there's less and less God and more and more people.

MvT: That's not totally true. It's always always there until the end. But it's less. When you think about Fanny and Alexander, God is there with this terrible priest who is punishing the young boy all the time.

AKT: In Wild Strawberries a time shift is taking place - he [Victor Sjöström] says "I've lived here two hundred years ago", in the house and he is returning to his childhood. It's such a beautiful tearing apart of time.

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future at the Guggenheim Museum in New York
Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future at the Guggenheim Museum in New York Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

MvT: In a way it's the same scene as when the actor is in front of the mirror and says "One moment I'm a child, and then when I open my eyes I am an old man." There he is an old man as a presence in the film but he feels like he was there when he was young.

AKT: Have you seen Alfonso Cuarón's ROMA?

MvT: No.

AKT: There is a scene when a little boy talks to the maid and says "When I was old, I used to know you." I thought this is a reverse mirroring image to Wild Strawberries.

MvT: I was not in Venice [for the film festival], so I could not see it.

AKT: You say in the beginning that you went to Paris in 1960 because Germany was too unbearable?

MvT: In a way it was unbearable because after the war there was a very strange atmosphere because nobody spoke about the past. I tried to put it also in Die Bleierne Zeit, in my film Marianne & Juliane, that in the Fifties we had the feeling there was something in the past that was terrible but nobody spoke.

That gave a certain atmosphere, leaden times. And Paris was for us - it was freedom, it was love, it was something new, it was avant-garde, it was all the opposite of what we lived in in Germany at this time as young people.

Searching For Ingmar Bergman screened at the 56th New York Film Festival
Searching For Ingmar Bergman screened at the 56th New York Film Festival Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

AKT: At the very end of the documentary, Ruben Östlund is filming you on his phone while you are interviewing him.

MvT: He was very funny.

AKT: He says:"Why are you asking me? Nobody in Sweden would ever ask me about Bergman."

MvT: Somebody had to come from Germany! That was very funny.

Read what Margarethe von Trotta had to say on Stig Björkman, Mia Hansen-Løve, Gaby Dohm in Searching For Ingmar Bergman, E.T.A. Hoffmann, the hour of the wolf, and being in Volker Schlöndorff's Return To Montauk.

Margarethe von Trotta's Uwe Johnson film adaptation Anniversaries at Goethe-Institut in New York and a ten film retrospective Margarethe von Trotta: The Political Is Personal at the Quad Cinema will take place starting on November 2.

Searching for Ingmar Bergman opens in the US on November 2.

Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future is on exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum in New York through April 23, 2019.

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