Bergman in Text

I mentioned in the last post that I picked up a book from Ingmar Bergman: ‘Private Confessions at the Landmark sale. I recently finished reading it and absolutely loved it – even more than Svevo’s ‘Zeno’s Conscience’ which I was reading last week and had thoroughly enjoyed.

The book is roughly based on Bergman’s life – or rather his parents’ and their troubled relationship. It is a story of a married woman (Anna) who is having an extra-marital affair with a young man. It has been narrated through five conversations that Anna has with different people, in an effort to erase her guilt by explaining herself to these people. All these conversations, however, seem an attempt by Anna to convince herself that what she is doing is not wrong. The first three conversations are excellent – specially the one with her husband Henrik. Henrik’s reaction have been very realistically drawn by Bergman, beginning with numb silences and ending in angry accusations.

The book however becomes more of a story as it reaches into the fourth conversation, with the focus swept away from conversations into the actual relationship. In fact there is very little conversation in the fourth and fifth ‘confessions‘, something that I did not like about the book. Yet the shreds of conversation that do happen are very poignant and articulately express Anna’s guilt and her confusion.

It was amazing how everyone in the story, with the exception of Anna’s mother is able to understand her and be supportive in some way. Even Henrik, being a clergyman and the wronged husband! It seemed that even in a severe era of bigotry and sanctimony, people found space for compassion and understanding. However, even with the supportiveness, Anna was admonished by all in some way, ,most of all by herself and her lover, which was the most moving element of the book.

Bergman, as I suspected after watching his movies, was amazing at book writing. He has a particular sensitivity in his movie making, which seemed like an appropriate trait for writing. Of course the filmaker manifests itself in the writer, and so you can immediately see a lot of imagery and detail in the text. At times it almost appears like he is writing a screenplay, describing in detail the posture, the dress, the colors of the moment. He even describes scene cuts at sometimes: Anna on the road, Anna in the garden, Anna at the gate. And like his movies, Bergman is innovative in the way he tells his story.

5 thoughts on “Bergman in Text

  1. I haven’t read this book. I have read one book by him, his memoir The Magic Lantern, but that was long back, even before I had seen any of his films. It wasn’t anything extraordinary as i remember it and he used some of the details from the childhood that he describes in the book in his beautiful film Fanny and Alexander.He is definitely a very “literary” filmmaker as you say but he is also a great director of actors. Something you will miss while reading the book — an actor’s interpretation of the character. His own artistic background is theatre, so may be that’s why this novel is also structured around conversations and scenes. Will check I can find this book here.


  2. I did like <>Laterna Magica<> except for the parts where he starts to justify himself. He has a good style of writing, simple, makes not more words as necessary, one gets a good impression of his personality.


  3. Oh yes, simplicity is the best part Bergman’s book – he does not use tangents. Of course part of the simplicity could be coming from translation, but that is something one can never know without reading the original. I sometimes wish I could learn all languages.Alok, I agree with you on the effect of theatre in his works – that was visible in the book as well as all three of his movies that I have watched. He seems to use ‘light’ extensively to depict the mood.


  4. “Bergman, as I suspected after watching his movies, was amazing at book writing”
    -This was exactly why I began reading his screenplays and started with this Autobiography now. Yes, he is a good writer first (IMHO).

    Like Alok, I was also reminded of “Fanny and Alexander”, as I read about his childhood in his autobiography 🙂

    Thanks for the article.


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