old cover Time magazine called Liv Ullmann “the new Scandinavian Hollywood star” – a phrase that never fit the Norwegian actress. She was a very busy actress, starring in some of Ingmar Bergman’s greatest films of the 60s and 70s. She was also a very good director, whose filmography includes “Pearl 2000”, based on a script by Bergman himself and entitled Incorrect. She became an active humanitarian activist, always traveling to the world’s most desperate countries as a UNHCR ambassador. But a star? “I never became a star,” she admits in this interview for Rolling Stone USA for US documentary series release Liv Ullmann – The Uncharted Road. And that’s okay with her.
Ulman, at 84 years old, is one of the last living “links” with the cinema of Bergman, a Swedish master who turned mental anguish and spiritual chaos into pure poetry. If Harriet Andersson (Monica and desire) there was a bright fire and Bibi Andersson (seventh seal) a sip of fresh water from a mountain spring, Ulmann, who worked with both colleagues, is earth, stone, but always ready for an earthquake. She appeared in four films between 1966 and 1969: Man, Hour of the Wolf, Shame AND Passion, the last three paired with Max von Sydow, in which he staged some of Bergman’s darkest demons. IN Human, her first collaboration with the director, says almost nothing, which seems quite appropriate for an actress of outstanding expressiveness and vulnerability. As Jessica Chastain, Ullmann’s director, says Miss Julie in 2014 “as if he had no skin”. (However, in 2021, Chastain played one of the roles that made Ulmann herself famous in a remake of HBO’s Bergman film. Scenes from the wedding.)
Ulmann and Bergman were also life partners, living together on the Swedish island of Forø, which was the setting for the four aforementioned films, before their lives became too claustrophobic for Liv. “The fights that you see in these films, especially inwolf time And in Passion, what the two of them had in real life,” says Peter Cowie, film historian and expert on Bergman. His new essay God and the Devil: The Life and Works of Ingmar Bergmanwill be released later this year. “They had a really tumultuous relationship. She was a muse, which he, however, could not fully control, because she reasoned and created with her head. He both admired and hated it all because he wanted to be the boss.”
Ulmann and Bergman remained close friends until his death in 2007. “He was my best friend,” she explains. “We fell in love. We had a daughter (literary critic and writer Lynn Ullmann, nt). The house he built for us in Foryo is still there. Always the same, with the same furniture as then. That’s where my roots are, still.”
But inside Ullman is a much wider world capable of surpassing Bergman’s cinematography. In 1973, he received one of two Oscar nominations for Carl and Christina Jan Truel (another came for mirror image Bergman, 1976). He has published two autobiographical bestsellers, Change (1977) and Choice (1984). However, if you ask her what she is most proud of, she will answer the friendships she has been able to build over the years and what she has been able to change through her humanitarian efforts in places like Sierra Leone, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. For a woman who has put so much effort into her work, it seems that she gets the most satisfaction outside of the work itself.
“I pride myself on being a bit shy and I’ve always felt awkward in relationships and instead I’ve been lucky enough to meet so many different people in my life,” she says. “These people were often very generous to me, and I had the opportunity to see life through their eyes. You meet people who, for one reason or another, become your friends. I need them and I think they need me.”
In the documentary, many celebrities praise Ulmann: John Lithgow, who worked with her on the re-release Anna Christie on Broadway in 1977 (and who was briefly a life partner); Jessica Chastain; Cate Blanchett directed by Ullman in the acclaimed version A tram called desire Tennessee Williams; Sam Waterston with Ullmann at the theater in Dollhouse in 1975 and in cinema in mind wandering (1990); Jeremy Irons alongside her in the film adaptation of the novelWild duck (say the name of Ibsen’s play and it is very likely that Ulmann did it, in whatever shape or form it may be).
It is Irons who makes the statement with which Ullmann is likely to agree: “One of the problems with success is that it brings fame.” Instead, Chastain notes that Ullmann “glorifies fragility and destruction.” And as Ulmann herself points out several times during uncharted roadknows something about anger and its destructive power, which is clearly shown in the films he made with Bergman.
Today, Ullmann looks at the world of cinema with a sense of detachment and disorientation. She complains about the lack of intimacy brought about by the use of digital technology: we definitely won’t see her join other respected colleagues in one of the next Marvel games. She’s not sure what to do with “this streaming”, although she notes ironically that this documentary is indeed available on the streaming platform. She doesn’t seem to be used to or interested in any sort of non-human interaction, which explains her deep connection to Bergman. Many of the director’s films are about people destroying each other, but these people are fiercely alive, able to touch heaven and then slide into hell.
Among the indelible faces of Bergman’s cinema – Liv Ullmann, Harriet Andersson, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Max von Sydow, Erland Josefson and Gunnar Bjornstrand – only Ullman and Harriet Andersson, now 91 years old (after all, no one can stop Monika), have survived. “Unfortunately, many have left. He he is no more,” Ulmann sighs. “Harriet is still here, I am still here. But here’s what’s bad about old age: those who were next to you are no longer there.
One day Ullmann will leave too. But now he still has his own great story to tell. And this is a story worth hearing.
From Rolling Stone USA