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One of the many things a benchmark film festival like the New York FF can do is anoint a new documentary with the stamp of importance just by inclusion in the fest. Such is the case of Liv and Ingmar -- a film that is touching, expressive on its own terms but resonates even more so when -- thanks to the fest -- it spotlights the lives of two major figures in the history of cinema. The relationship between the late Swedish director Ingmar Bergman and his muse and protege (and lover) Liv Ullmann is poetically illuminated here.
In the history of filmmaking, they were one of the great couples. Ullmann and Bergman met in 1965 while filming one his great dramas, Persona. Both were married at the time with a than a 20+-year difference in age between them -- Liv was 25 and Ingmar 47 -- but that didn’t matter.
So they lived together for five years, had a child together and collaborated on 12 films. Now, 46 years later, though Ingmar is gone, their love never died and a film, Liv and Ingmar, was born as an a homage to that shared experience.
An affectionate but truthful account of these intertwined lives, it reveals the full spectrum of their shared emotions as they survived through extraordinary times. In turn, they both left behind enduring creations as proof of their passionate relationship on and off-screen. Told entirely from Ullmann’s viewpoint through interviews and visually reflective moments, it was shot at the house Ingmar built for Liv on the spot where he had declared his love for her at Fårø, Sweden.
This extraordinary biopic is constructed as a collage of images and sounds from the many Ullmann/Bergman films, behind-the-scenes footage, still photographs, passages from Liv’s book Changing and Ingmar’s personal letters to his love. Ultimately a candid look, it not only documents two great artists as human beings, friends and soul mates, the 83 minutes film also encapsulates a time and an aesthetic. Liv and Ingmar was written and directed by Dheerai Alkolkar, with Hallvard Bræin as cinematographer. First shown on Monday, October 1, 2012, at 6:15 pm at the Walter Reade Theater (165 W. 65th Street), Ullmann was in attendance for introduction and Q&A.
It screens again on Tuesday, October 9 at 8:45pm at the Francesca Beale Theater (144 W. 64th Street). For trailer visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hd0D76W5eYg or visit: http://livandingmar.com
The following exclusive interview was conducted a few days after the first screening at a fine midtown Manhattan hotel.
Q: What was it about Ingmar Bergman that captivated people so much?
LU: It was his recognition of who people are and what they are feeling. Sometimes it may look violent or harsh and tough, but it’s because he’s describing what’s happening within you.
He had a way of identifying with people. If you liked his movies it was because you were recognized and seen somehow. That’s what happened to us in Montreal when there was a Q&A after they saw this [film]. People didn’t come up with questions and answers, they just stood up and started talking about themselves.
Q: Would you have been a very different person had you not experienced Ingmar and have the film reflect you as well?
LU: Absolutely. That’s why we worked so well together, Ingmar and I. We may have seemed very different in age and experience and whatever, but we were very, very much alike. We were just who we are. We had the same need to be seen and listened to, both of us.
That was said in the movie too -- we came out from loneliness and felt less lonely because we knew we were understood by each other.
Q: You had as much of an effect on him as he did on you.
LU: Exactly. Obviously it would show more in me because I was so much younger and he was the director and seemed to be the master. But in terms of our long relationship until he died, I think I gave as much as I took. And all the people he worked closely, without us, his movies would have looked very different.
Q: He depended on a consistent group of people, it was like a community for him.
LU: For him that community was important because he was a child, he loved the games we played when there were intermissions between scenes.
We didn’t sit and talk about the scenes between takes, we did practical jokes, gossiped and all of these things. He just loved it.
When I directed the movie Faithless, he was absolutely forbidden from coming on the set. When he was to be there on the last day, it would be a surprise for the other people. So when lunch came he was to come and be a surprise when they came back from lunch. I tell you, he was like a little boy. It was in the hotel room and the bed... and she’s the bed and he said, “Put this thing over me and I’ll be the bed when the rehearsal starts.”
He goes into the bed and people are coming back from lunch and we put the blanket over him. This blanket was shivering because he was under there laughing and laughing. He was so excited and thought it was so fun and I will never forget this bed going up and down because he was so happy.
Then Lena Endre comes in and of course saw these two and she opens it up. He loved it. That was Ingmar and that was the Ingmar that nobody knows that didn’t work with him. He didn’t have to play the master because he was the master and we knew it, but we also knew he was like an old boy.
Q: It’s like when a Zen master gives a Kōan, it’s often quite funny as it is meaningful.
LU: But he didn’t know it. I remember it was so early in our relationship and we were going to travel for the first time and he had never traveled before because he’s scared too and insecure.
We were going from Oslo to Denmark to Italy and it was his first long trip out of Sweden. We were stopped in Denmark and he wanted to wash his hands. In Denmark you have to take the lift down and then you go there and come up again. For most people this is very ordinary and everyone can do it, but not this man with his leather jacket and his caps and whatever.
He goes down with the lift and after a while he comes back up with the lift and comes out. It’s like the first time momma lets you go. I cannot explain it, but this was Ingmar.
Once you realized this was Ingmar, he can be controlling and do all that because it’s the same boy and you get tenderness for it.
Q: He gave you a degree of freedom. His films might be dark like Scenes from a Marriage or Seventh Seal -- they were existential -- neither bad or good. They weren’t structured like Hollywood films.
LU: Exactly. That’s why it had such a stark [effect] on people. Once you recognize this, once you knew this isn’t a man making difficult movies doing this, but this is so easy to understand because his movies are so easy to understand.
Like you have in the movie where they’re eating breakfast together and there’s nothing to talk about that is so big at the moment. I could find a lot of people that haven’t done that scene at their own breakfast table. When people realized that they loved him, but if they thought they had to be intellectual they wont get it.
Q: There was a lot of silence and glances in his films. How was it different from working with him theatrically from cinematically?
LU: Well he’s an incredible theater director and he directs in somehow a very different way. In films during the intermissions he would play, but in the theater between 11 and 3 he makes it so important and tells stories around what you are doing.
You feel like you are treading in a really holy place. We did Pirandello and he knows so much about Pirandello and telling stories.
He wouldn’t say “you feel like this” or “you laugh like this.” He’d make you feel so gifted because you’d think, "Right now I’m doing Pirandello and I know this about Pirandello" and he would give wonderful blocking, and he’d say "you go from here to that chair and I hope that feels comfortable for you" but he would never, never say what you are feeling, why you go to the chair. Because he’s so good at this, something happens. “Why can’t I just stay here?” “No, there is a reason. You find out the reason for going to that chair.”
That’s why he was such a genius, it was thrilling. I can remember this from film too. You go from that chair, to that table, and then you end up sitting there. Why? Suddenly by doing that, something is unloosened within you and it is exciting and you show him that you saw something there, and if it’s good, he will praise you in a way like you’ve found America.
Q: You’re at ease with having your life with him on the screen?
LU: It’s my life, but as an actress, that is what I do. I show the life of a woman. It’s not Liv, but it goes through Liv. I mean I’m not playing Liv, but whatever I’m feeling that this person is feeling, it goes through my knowledge and experience. It goes through me.
It’s not me crying, but I allow that person to cry with my tears. I’m always two people. So many people think because the way I act that I go off to some actors studio, but never. I’m really there. I take such joy when my hand is shivering when it should be shivering and I let it shiver more. It’s fantastic. It’s such fun to be an actor. Actors say, “oh it’s so strenuous and takes so much.”
They’re bullshitting. It’s an incredible thing because we get out so many emotions that other people don’t get the chance to do. We shouldn’t be neurotic at all because we do a daily study of living our emotions.
Q: When did you decide you wanted to direct?
LU: It just came to me. Everything came to me. I had written a script on order for a Danish production [studio] based on a book, but it became much more my story than the book’s story and the producers really love it. They said, “You should direct.” Me? No. “Think about it. We’d really like you to direct that movie.”
I couldn’t believe it. They wanted me to direct? That was in Denmark and I was going home and they said let us know in a week. You know, I would have said yes at once, but I had to pretend I was so busy. I called Ingmar; I still remember it, from the airport in Copenhagen. I said “Ingmar, they want me to direct. Do you think I can direct?”
And he said “Oh of course Liv, you can direct.” That was all I needed because I knew he knew me and if he thought so he would have said, “you’re too scared,” but he said, “You can direct.”
And he was right, I can direct, because I am an actor and I understand. The best thing I know is what not to do. Maybe I don’t always know what to do, but I absolutely know what not to do. The bad directors, they don’t know that, they do not know what not to do and that’s why they are so bad.
Q: When you and director Dheerai Alkolkar worked on this film, did you stay out of the editing process?
LU: I had no power at all. Neither did I try. It was an understanding. I never saw the movie, I didn’t know what the movie would be. I said to the producer I’m doing two days of interviews and you can use my reading from Changing. I didn’t know what this was going to be.
We even made a contract. I don’t want money, no responsibility if I don’t like it, I’m not going to be quiet about that. He didn’t know about that, but I’m here because I feel he gave me a gift. I never even thought that Ingmar and my relationship could be shown by his movie.
And when I saw that I said how is that possible? But then I remembered he made movies about all of us, so it looks like ours and we did not have a violent physical thing, but I know when Ingmar hurts or if I hurt, it’s worse than when somebody knocks you out. What I’ve heard is that nobody has made a documentary where they show the film master, what his life has been with someone through his films.
Yes, I am proud of this movie. Not because I made it in any way, I did the interviews. He really did this and he gave me a gift. I had forgotten these letters which they have, and the door, I love that door and now I know because the sun is bleaching it, but it’s going to be there forever and that means so much for me.
There are things in the movie either I didn’t know or I had forgotten and it is there. Maybe it means nothing for anyone, but it means so much for me and it is incredible. Ingmar would have smiled. A young man from India is seeing something that maybe a lot of people never would have seen.
Q: Do you want to make a documentary now?
LU: I’ve wanted to do one before. Maybe travel somewhere in the Third World with some women and show some incredible strong women, but I don’t have the time. I don’t have the time because I want to be a story-teller and you can’t go into the Third World and be a storyteller because that story is already there and you show it. I want to be a story-teller, so I’m not going to make a documentary.
I vote for Oscars, but if I had the possibility, I would vote for the documentaries because in this world we’re living in now, they are the most interesting to see because there are some really incredible film makers that are starting to become great documentary film makers.
Q: You really rethink the role of a woman actress. Do you help push that process forward and take on that responsibility. You were thrown in at 25.
LU: I know, and I didn’t really understand and I’m easy to make a doormat. But I’ve been a good doormat, because if a doormat starts talking professionally, and I have been talking professionally, I can make it easier for other women.
A lot of us are very insecure because we feel the men are dominant and they should be so. But if I can do it, anyone can do it. That is really so because I am not strong in that way, but I became because it is wonderful and has given me so much strength.
For this I also have to thank Ingmar because he gave me that possibility and he used to say about me “you are made in one piece” and he was so wrong and he realized that too. I am not made in one piece, but I can talk sometimes like I am made in one piece and I am grateful for that. That’s why I am really grateful for this movie. I see that in this movie.
Q: You also stayed part of the community.
LU: We are the best of friends. Bibi Anderson is my best friend in the world. Some of them are gone, some of them are dead, but my friends, they are from when I was 20 and I love it and I hope we stay friends. But you also have to have young friends, creative young friends, so you can still feel pride and curiosity in what’s going to happen.
Q: What do you have coming up now in your mid-70s?
LU: I am going to Norway to direct Uncle Vanya for the National Theater. I’ve been ordered to do an adaptation of August Strindberg’s Miss Julie, and we should start in the beginning of April to do that movie.
I had an offer which I said yes to do here on Broadway The Doll’s House to direct. It all just came to me. Within one year if everything happens as it should, I will do Chekov, Strindberg, and The Doll’s House. God has been nice to me, maybe I’ve been nice? Who knows what happens, but that is the plan.
Q: Do you have any actors you want?
LU: The National Theater is all cast with Norwegians. Miss Julie is cast, but it is a secret right now. The Doll’s House is open and I will find the best people.
Q: Did you make a list of actors you want?
LU: Yeah because a lot of actors can be great in a film but it’s something really different to be a stage actor. It has to be someone with knowledge, a voice and schooling to be on the stage because that’s difficult, to be on the stage. It’s not just a matter of turning on your feelings, it’s so much more than that. You got to do with [the knowledge of working through] a beginning, a middle, and an end.
Look at Cate Blanchett, she’s almost the best theater actress I know. It is so much more than just turning on a feeling. I’ve worked with her and it was one of the best adventures I’ve had in my life because she knows.
Q: Is there anyone you still want to work with or hope you can?
LU: No, that would mean me going back to acting. There are some directors that sometimes I dream I will have one more acting part [with], but I’ve been given so much, so that won’t happen.
But when you hear about this Michael Haneke [film] sometimes I wish to do it one more time to see if still can. I can do small roles in a film, but maybe that’s not what I’m dreaming of. I maybe just once more want to be creative as an actor.
Q: Older actresses are getting parts these days.
LU: Because we have these incredible actresses. People are seeing that you are alive after you’re 40.
Director Marina Zenovich’s entry in this year’s New York Film Festival, Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out, offers one of the more fascinating side notes of the festival. Such filmInline image 1s make this 50th year edition strong not only in terms of its main slate but for sidebars like the Cinema Reflected program, one that includes films like this documentary which are about filmmaking and the filmmakers behind the process.
Zenovich first made her mark with her previous doc, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired in 2008. It concerned film director Roman Polanski and his sexual abuse case, examining the events that led to Polanski fleeing the United States after being embroiled in a controversial trial, and his unstable reunion with his adopted country.
This follow-up to that film, Roman Polanski: Odd Man Out details Polanski's successful legal battle to avoid extradition to the US, a battle that took place after Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired came out.
Independent director and producer Zenovich has made some other films about actors and directors including Who Is Bernard Tapie? (a study of the French politician/convicted criminal turned actor) and Independent’s Day (about the Sundance Film Festival and the indie film world featuring directors Steven Soderbergh, Neil Labute and Greg Mottola among others).
These documents ask important questions about who filmmakers and film people are and -- in Polanski’s case -- what allowances should or can be made when an artist known for doing revolutionary work steps far beyond socially accepted norms. In 1977, when he was accused of drugging and having sex with 13 year-old actress wanna-be, the Polish born Holocaust survivor was both an internationally recognized Oscar-winning director (Rosemary’s Baby) and tragic figure since his wife Shron Tate and their unborn baby had been slaughtered by the Charles Manson Family in 1969.
And, as Zenovich outlines here, she’s on board to direct a film about the late pioneering black comedian/actor Richard Pryor -- another creator who steps out beyond the pale of acceptable social behavior.
The following Q&A is gleaned from the press conference preceding her NYFF screenings.
Q: At what point after Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired came out that you felt like you had to do a follow up?
MZ: The [first] film came out in 2008, premiered at Cannes, played at Sundance and then, it was in December of 2008, that his lawyers told me that they were going to use the film as evidence. I pretty much was ready to move on after five years but couldn’t stop myself from continuing to film. It was originally going to be a short film.
I had an interview with Mr. Polanski scheduled in November of 2009. I started filming in January of 2009 and for [the] nine months after my film had re-opened the case which was completely unplanned. It was just something that happened as I was investigating.
Q: Do you think Roman Polanski will ever return to the States or will this never go away?
MZ: I love that Polanski’s attorney is optimistic and I’m an optimistic person, but I don’t know if this is the case.
Q: What is your relationship with Polanski now?
MZ: It all starts with him, but our relationship is complicated to say the least. I can’t speak for his team, but I think they wanted to use the first film as a way to resolve the case and they never thought he would be arrested as a result.
It’s very much a mixed bag. He hasn’t seen the film yet so I don’t know what he thinks about it or how he feels about the whole thing. It was an extremely difficult time for him, his family, the girl Samantha Geimer and her family. Our relationship is complicated.
Q: At the end of the film it becomes like a real-world version of Chinatown. It’s larger than anyone could imagine.
MZ: It certainly didn’t seem like that when I decided to follow it up with the short. I had no idea what the short was going to be about other than seeing what happened, but I had no idea it would become a political international thriller and that’s what I responded to.
A lot of people wouldn’t talk to me, so I had to draw my own conclusion and I feel good about it. He’s used as a pawn despite what he did, which is horrible; he’s used as a pawn in an international game.
There were a lot of things happening in Switzerland that I couldn’t cover in the film because it’s hard enough following the Polanski case, let alone following worldwide financial collapse. We tried to do both as much as we could. I could make a whole other film about Switzerland and UBS, but no one will talk to me.
Q: It’d be a great end to the trilogy.
MZ: I don’t think so. I’m pretty much done with this. I didn’t know it would take this long. But I’m very interested in the whole topic.
Q: These warrants, like the one for Polanski, are not normally honored in Europe. There’s a class element to this story.
MZ: That’s their opinion. There are a lot of people who are going to watch this and say, “who cares if he was mistreated, he broke the law.”
This case brings out a lot of venom on both sides and I just choose to document what I was interested in. I don’t know what to say. I leave it to you to say it. Not really much of an answer.
Q: Was the adult Samantha Geimer easy to approach? Did she seem eager to talk or was she defensive?
MZ: For me, the film drips with irony on every level. Samantha Geimer has always been straight on with me. Every time I see her in the film I appreciate her honesty in regards to what she said in the film.
She’s writing a book, so I don’t know, this ended up being part of her story. She would say, “I want to write a book, so I’m going to write a book.”
She’s beautiful like that, she’s not hiding. She was easy to talk to from the beginning. The most difficult people were the lawyers in the first film, Polanski’s lawyers. I had a cut of the movie that didn’t even have him in it because he wouldn’t talk to me.
The DA in the case, we had a mutual connection that took me a year and a half to be able to talk to him. With this film I was able to get the French lawyer to talk, but none of the other lawyers. Now they might be sorry because I think it would be good if they were in the film, but they don’t want to talk.
And I got Samantha’s mom, which was very interesting to finally meet her and hear what she has to say.
Q: Has there been any word from David Wells since his recanting of his statements in your earlier Polanski film -- he kind of betrayed you and called into question both his integrity and that of LA’s whole court culture?
MZ: No, I haven’t heard from him. But I do think it’s a great study in body-language when you see him on Anderson Cooper.
Q: It was important to have the women at the heart of this case -- Geimer and her actress/mother Susan Gailey...
MZ: I was happy to get the women in the film, there weren’t many. Susan Gailey likes to laugh and that is her truth, and I tried to have her not laugh. Take from that what you will. People process what happens to them in different ways and both she and Sam laugh a lot.
As an interviewer it was extremely difficult to get her to settle. I got a few moments, and that’s all I was going for. I don’t like the tabloidness of it all. There are differing opinions on what she did, on what he did, I never chose to focus on what happened that night because I feel like I could never know. You have what you’ve heard; other people have what they’ve heard and I think it’s just going to die with everyone.
There are six or seven charges and he plead guilty to one, so in the eyes of the court it’s one charge, but in the eyes of everyone else it’s the others [that people focus on].
I’m happy that I got her to talk. I think my first film was cathartic for her in some way. It was cathartic for everyone involved and made them make peace with it for themselves. But I certainly didn’t edit her to look silly.
Q: Is that your voice we hear behind the camera urging Susan Gailey to say his name? She’s never able to say it.
MZ: I know, and that speaks volumes.
Q: Do you think Geimer would agree with those words, that judgment that Polanski drugged and raped a child?
MZ: I had to be objective and show both sides, and as I said, there’s a lot of venom on both sides when it comes to this, but I had to put that in there. You’d have to ask Sam. I believe that she wouldn’t, but you’d have to ask her.
I know when Whoopi Goldberg said that it wasn’t “rape-rape”, she agreed with Whoopi and that was something that was interesting to me but it didn’t make it into the film. I was just astounded at the venom about this case and I had to show both sides, that’s part of my job.
Q: French philosopher/media personality Bernard-Henri Lévy said that everyone becomes his or her own little tribunal.
MZ: Which was what it was like. It was a really crazy time and it still brings up… I sometimes don’t mention it because it makes people kind of go crazy.
Q: I imagine this would make you run screaming from making films in Switzerland or Los Angeles. What do you have planned next? And what do you think of that UBS whistleblower that went to prison.
MZ: I’m going to the Zurich Film Festival next week, so we’ll see how I’m received there. This has been an extremely difficult film to make. I don’t want to make any more legal films. I’m actually editing a film about Richard Pryor. I don’t know what to say. This is so odd; it’s hard to stay connected because I can’t see you.
At this point I’d like to make a romantic comedy and my son would like me to make a children’s film.
Documentaries are really, really hard and it’s almost like you’re working with found objects. The found objects being If you get people to talk to you, what they say to you and then you’re trying to rub it together and create something.
And in this film in particular a lot of people didn’t want to talk and that’s part of the whole thing and it’s frustrating.
And although I love the challenge it takes it out of you, we’ll see what they say in Switzerland. I think they’ll treat me nicely because that’s just how the Swiss are, but who knows what they think.
And I’m fascinated by Bradley Birkenfeld, that’s an interesting subject in and of itself, but the problem is getting these people to talk.
In the first film I ended uncovering something I didn’t even know of that just fell into my lap and now you’re expected to do it all the time. That’s what’s hard. It’s a great challenge, but it’s just difficult.
Q: Are you taking a similar approach with the Richard Pryor film to what you did with the Polanski films?
MZ: The Polanski films were my idea, so they were passion projects. Someone came to me with the Richard Pryor documentary idea and I’m a big Pryor fan and I didn’t know what he had been through in his life, so it was a bit of a discovery for me. We just starting editing, so we’re still figuring out how we’re going to attack it. I’ll let you know.
What’s funny to me is that ended up being another difficult man with the initials RP. The Polanski film was really about something that happened as seen through his life; where this one is going, I’m not sure yet. We’re almost done with the interviews and then we’ll see.
The Japan Society's (333 East 47th St.) Japan Cuts film series (July 12 - 28, 2012), in conjunction with Subway Cinema's New York Asian Film Festival, is a daring film series assembling some truly unique examples of Japanese cinema. Japan Cuts as a film series excels at having a little something for everyone. You have standbys like Takashi Miike (Ace Attorney), veteran actors like Koji Yakusho and Yoshio Harada along with a new breed of filmmakers that look to turn their lens on a post 3/11 Japan.
Japan Cuts is the sort of series that does a great job of attracting both experts on Japanese cinema as well as new viewers. And it wouldn't be possible without the guidance of Japan Society's film programmer, Samuel Jamier.
Read more: As Japan Cuts Open, Programmer...
They're getting younger and younger these days -- precocious stars who make their first movies before hitting puberty, garnering awards and accolades they don’t even quite comprehend.
That's certainly the case for Quvenzhané Wallis -- the young and amazing eight-year-old star of Beasts of The Southern Wild, the remarkable feature debut from director Benh Zeitlin. The film debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and won awards there and at Cannes Film Festival 2012. It was also sneak previewed at the 2012 New Directors / New Films at the Film Society of Lincoln Center's Walter Reade Theater.
In Beasts…, the then-six-year-old Wallis became Hushpuppy. Her fellow non-actor and New Orleans resident Dwight Henry (the 47-year-old proprietor of The Buttermilk Drop BakeryandCafé in New Orleans’ Treme neighborhood) played her loving but alcoholic father, Wink, in a strange surreal household set in an isolated Louisiana bayou. It’s a place about as much like New Orleans as that southern burg is like Manhattan.
Read more: Quvenzhané Wallis Tames "Beasts...
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