Ingmar Bergman’s short film about her begins with a photograph of his mother, Karin Åkerblom Bergman, taken for a passport only days before her death. The old woman, a former nurse, is beautiful—as beautiful as Bergman’s love for her can imagine her. We all know all about her, because we have seen her history, beginning with Lutheran priest Erik Bergman’s courtship of her, in Bille August’s The Best Intentions (1982), Ingmar’s son Daniel Bergman’s Sunday’s Children (1992) and Liv Ullmann’s Private Confessions (1996), all written by Bergman. We care almost deeply about this woman we have never in actuality met.
Karins ansikte slips into Bergman’s family album, for the camera to visit, in some cases scrutinize, old photograph after old photograph, the earlier ones in sepia, a few more recent ones in black and white. There she is, and there is Bergman’s father, whom we know his son hated, and we can see this here; and we can identify which of the babies and the children is Ingmar by those ears of his. This film contains no speech, only faces; it possesses the muteness of a haunting dream.
There is a photograph of Karin at work, and another of her smiling facing a cat. There aren’t too many smiles in the Bergman family album. Perhaps this one is the only full-fledged smile—although the hint of another in the new passport photo, with its utterly relaxed composure, suggests that Karin herself is anticipating the irony that her final journey, only heartbeats away, will render this photograph useless.
We return to that photo, which a series of other photos that we have seen earlier deconstructs—for Bergman, the eternal mystery of the human face.
The spare, delicate piano score is by Käbi Laretei, Daniel’s mother.
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