Magazine article The New Yorker

Born Outsiders

Magazine article The New Yorker

Born Outsiders

Article excerpt


--Judith Thurman

In 1965, Ingmar Bergman ferried a film crew to the island of Faro, a Swedish military outpost in the Baltic Sea, to shoot the exteriors of "Persona." The island is a place of harsh beauty and isolation; there is no respite from either in Bergman's masterpiece. He was working, as usual, with a close-knit company of Swedish actors and technicians, but, for the first time, he had looked abroad for an actress to play opposite Bibi Andersson, a veteran of eleven Bergman films. The newcomer had to resemble her co-star closely enough to suggest a confusion of identities, and to possess a supremely expressive face--her character is a mental patient who refuses to speak. The little-known Norwegian whom he cast was the twenty-six-year-old Liv Ullmann.

Ullmann will be seventy-five on December 16th, three days after a documentary about her life with Bergman, "Liv and Ingmar: Painfully Connected," opens in New York and Los Angeles. The director, Dheeraj Akolkar, is an Indian filmmaker in his thirties; when he first approached Ullmann, she turned him down. But she is famous for saying no to directors--Brian De Palma, Steven Soderbergh, Bergman himself. In 1981, she declined the role of Emelie Ekdahl in "Fanny and Alexander," which Bergman had written for her. "I still don't know why I did that," she said recently, over brunch in a midtown hotel. (She was taking little bites of her toast, as she does at the breakfast table in "The Passion of Anna.")

"Liv and Ingmar" suggests why Ullmann denied herself a part she likened to a "birthright": it took her decades, after her five years with Bergman, to escape her thralldom. They fell in love on the set of "Persona." He was almost twice her age, forty-seven, and both were married. Before they met, Ullmann had felt invisible. "I paid school friends to go to the movies with me. I barely spoke until I was thirty. Ingmar and I recognized each other as born outsiders."

Ullmann quickly became pregnant (their daughter, Linn Ullmann, a successful novelist, was born in 1966), and, forsaking all others, who were not welcome to visit, moved into the house that Bergman built for them on Faro. He was the auteur of their relationship, which she tried to live according to his direction, but their cloistered life alone with a toddler left her, she said, "insatiably hungry" for connection. …

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