Ingmar Bergman: Magician and Prophet


257 pages
Contains Photos, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2004-X
DDC 791.43'0233'092




Reviewed by Anna Migliarisi

Anna Migliarisi is an assistant professor in the English Department of
Acadia University, Nova Scotia.


This intelligent, engaging volume explores Ingmar Bergman’s cinematic
power and magic and his formative influence as a “prophet” who
reflected and shaped contemporary Western culture from postwar
existentialism to postmodernism. Gervais adopts a deliberately personal
tone: communicating the “living, thinking, feeling, vital
experience” of the Bergman legacy in precedence over objective
theoretical positioning. General readers and beginning film students
will find this study especially accessible; advanced students and
scholars will be enormously intrigued.

A foreword by actress Liv Ullman is followed by two principal sections.
The lengthier section, “Prophet of Our Times,” provides a
descriptive evaluation of Bergman’s feature films, in chronological
order, in the context of the evolving cultural landscape and beginning
with the nine pre-Summer Interlude films of the 1940s, which the author
points out have received little critical attention. This is followed by
a look at the seven films of Bergman’s “rose period” (1950–55)
and the earliest critical successes, including The Seventh Seal and Wild
Strawberries; the metaphysical films of the early 1960s leading up to
Persona; the “new Period” films of the 1970s, including Cries and
Whispers; films originally made for television and re-edited for
international distribution, such as Scenes From a Marriage; and
Bergman’s 1982 farewell feature, Fanny and Alexander.

In the second half of the book (“Magician of the Cinema”), Gervais
isolates for scrutiny what he refers to as a “privileged moment”:
the 41-shot Strawberries and Milk segment from The Seventh Seal. An
in-depth breakdown and analysis of the scene’s formal and stylistic
properties are followed by a compelling commentary on the symbolism of
this “fragile” moment and its significance in the evolution of
Bergman’s artistry.

Gervais concludes with a reprint of a 1998 article by Jannike Ahlund
that deals with Bergman’s substantial television output and with an
“Epilogue” that attempts to “re-situate” Bergman in contemporary
culture vis-а-vis Private Confessions (a Bergman screenplay directed by
Liv Ullman in 1997) and In the Presence of a Clown (a TV play written
and directed by Bergman in 1998). Gervais’s study is a fascinating


Gervais, Marc., “Ingmar Bergman: Magician and Prophet,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,