With impeccable timing, the legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman has died, at the grand age of 89, just as his most famous work, The Seventh Seal, is enjoying yet another retrospective.
Bergman was one of the towering masters of the cinematic art, able to elicit performances of visceral intensity and raw emotion, as well as having a genius for staging and the close up shot. Like Leonard Cohen in the world of popular music, his reputation for doom and gloom preceded him, but this not only ignores his capacity to capture real feeling, but also the equal power of some of his lighter, more approachable fims (Summer With Monika). Woody Allen described him as 'probably the greatest artist, all things considered, since the invention of the motion picture camera'.
Still, some remain unconvinced, viewing even his greatest films as emphasising technical machismo above emotional substance. In my view this is wrong. His best works, particularly when at his most discomforting, match powerful, disorientating imagery with overwhelming emotional force. Many will rush to cite The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Fanny and Alexander or Persona as his ultimate masterpiece. I would opt for the extraordinary Cries and Whispers, easily one of the most painful films I can remember watching - the vivid crimson colours and the howls of torment are still imprinted on my mind. He will remain unchallenged as the filmmaker to capture most powerfully the extremes of emotional confrontation.