If you are a developing cinephile or have any interest in film, you will have heard of Ingmar Bergman. If not a quick google search for the greatest directors of all time will likely yield lists where Bergman is ranked near or at the top alongside other auteurs like Kubrick, Kurosawa, and Hitchcock. Notoriously dark and complex, attempting to dive into Bergman’s extensive filmography may seem like a daunting task especially considering the deep philosophical themes and heavy investment (both in terms of the extended run times and mental investment) that his films require.

This is a brief guide to how and where you should start should you want to tackle Bergman’s films (and why wouldn’t you? he is acclaimed for good reason). This is NOT a ranking of his greatest films but simply 5 films out of his prolific career that are A) the most accessible to a general audience and B) culturally significant but not one of the immediately obvious films that everyone will tell you to see (in this case Persona and Seventh Seal)

  1. Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället) (1957)

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Contrary to popular opinion which would point you in the direction of Bergman’s most famous films (Persona and Seventh Seal) I think that Wild Strawberries is the ideal starting off point for any future Bergman enthusiasts. Unlike the two aforementioned films, Wild Strawberries benefits from being insightful without being overwhelmingly dense which can turn off a viewer immediately.

Depicting an aging professor on his way to collect an award, Wild Strawberries is an exploration of existentialism in the face of a life gone by. Through encounters with others on the road to his own dreams, it is a journey of self-discovery that confronts the meaning of life. This film serves as a nice middle ground between his later more sentimental works and his highly experimental forays – a perfect jumping off point into the world of Bergman

Watch the film in full with English subtitles below:

 

 

 

2. Scenes From A Marriage (‘Scener ur ett äktenskap’) (1973)

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If you like Woody Allen films like Annie Hall, the most recent season of Master of None or are just a fan of romance in general Scenes from a Marriage is the film for you. A big influence on Allen’s work and that of the romance genre in general, Scenes from a Marriage follows a couple throughout ten years of their marriage. As they endure the high and lows of being married to one another, the film examines what it means to be in love and how that definition shifts as time progresses. It is a fascinating piece from Bergman who approaches the subject with a sense of honesty that may be jarring to some. It can be interpreted as cynical (as is the case with much of Bergman’s work) but its ability to project a relationship is about as good as any film even if along the way it shatters some pre conceived notions on relationships.

There are two cuts of this film floating around, the six hour made for TV mini series and the condensed movie version. This one may be difficult to find as it is not nearly as famous as some of Bergman’s other work but it should not be missed

3. Autumn Sonata (Höstsonaten) (1978)

Ingmar Bergman teams up with the other famous Bergman (Ingrid) in this film that marks the sole collaboration between the two talents. This particular film is notable because Ingrid Bergman gives one of the greatest performances of all time alongside an equally game Liv Ullmann. Featuring some stellar musical choices, Autumn Sonata tells the tale of a strained mother-daughter relationship that both parties try to remedy after seven years apart. There’s a quiet escalating tension that results from bottled up emotions slowly rising to the surface and like so many of Ingmar Bergman’s films, it is emotionally draining but in a way that you can’t really look away.

4. Through A Glass Darkly (Såsom i en spegel) (1961)

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Part of Bergman’s trilogy of faith alongside Winter Light and The Silence, Through a Glass Darkly is Bergman exploring the philosophy of metaphysics and the discovery of meaning through a young woman undergoing a psychotic breakdown. Max Von Sydow stars again working with Bergman following a previous collaboration in the Seventh Seal. Like so many of his films, Bergman challenges the audience presenting the content in raw unapologetic terms. If you are looking for a film that’s lesser known than some of the marquee titles in Bergman’s extensive filmography, look no further than Through a Glass Darkly.

See the full film with subtitles below:

 

 

5. Fanny and Alexander (Fanny och Alexander) (1982)

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Considered by many to be the culmination of his entire career, Fanny and Alexander is really one of those films you should circle back to once you get a grip for Bergman as a filmmaker (hence its positioning in 5th). Comparatively, Fanny and Alexander is considered on the lighter films among Bergman’s work. The film is centered around two young Swedish children as they experience the many comedies and tragedies of their family, the Ekdahls.

Bergman’s films are challenging and at times emotionally draining but watching his films will not only expand your knowledge of cinema but also hopefully promote some deeper thinking into the philosophical machinations of life itself. Considered one of the greatest of all time this is just a small number of the lesser known films in a career full of excellence. Hopefully, through viewing them you can develop insight into Bergman’s style and begin to see his overarching influence on filmmakers today.

Do you have other suggestions for the best entry point into Ingmar Bergman? Let us know via social media or in the comments below!

 

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