Any memoir which comes straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, should come with a sucrose warning. Similar to the one that ought to be put on the side of coca cola cans. Retrospectively, we all want to hang on to the good and partition the bad off into some unopenable drive. It’s logical. Yet, this doesn’t do much for the process of capturing the truth of what really occurred. Pinter, in both Betrayal and Old Times, is wonderful at dissecting the small deceits we make in order to make the past more palatable. He retains a truth-seeking gaze that others might term cynical; I’d like to think this is a British attribute but I’m sure we British can soft-soap it with the best of them when we want to.
Liv and Ingmar is essentially a long filmed interview with Liv Ullman as she talks about the four years she and Bergman spent living together on a small island off the coast of Sweden. It was an idyll that turned into something out of the Shining. Bergman controlled the hours that his wife was allowed to stay out of the house and waited for her in the road, tapping his watch if she was late. He built a wall around the house to keep the world out. They argued with a vengeance. Ullman narrates a funny anecdote about him putting his foot through a door. Finally, after only four years, she couldn’t take it anymore and left with their daughter. But not before Bergman had recycled much of their domestic trauma for use in his films.
Forty years later, Ullman reflects wistfully. She and Bergman made up and became friends. They continued to make films together. As colleagues, their lives would appear to have been considerably more harmonious. He called her his Stradivarius, a monicker she appears to value. Of course, it’s for the best for everyone that Ullman now harbours positive memories of her time with Bergman and is able to laugh at the director’s various moments of sadism when he exploited her discomfort as an actress. However, the anger and the pain, two of the film’s subtitled sections, never really communicate themselves. For that, we have to watch the films. If anything, Liv and Ingmar reminds us of the dangers of being informed about the lives of artists, who all too often appear to possess a degree of self-obsession which is less appealing in the actuality than in the fictions they concoct in order to mask it.