Ingmar Bergman Dies Age 89

The legendary director passes on

Ingmar Bergman, one of the finest directors in the history of cinema, has died at the age of 89. In a career spanning over 60 years, he made a number of powerful and provocative studies of the human condition, including The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries (both 1957), Persona (1966) and Cries and Whispers (1973), which influenced film-makers as different as Woody Allen and Andrei Tarkovsky.

Born in 1918, the son of a Lutheran pastor, Bergman endured an unhappy childhood, although he later credited his insight into the female psyche to his desperate desire to win his mother's affection. Cinema and the theatre became a means of escape and he was inspired by the works of the German Expressionists, the French surrealists, the Dane Carl Theodor Dreyer and the Swedish pioneers, Mauritz Stiller and Victor Sjöström.

However, his earliest pictures bore the traces of Italian neo-realism and it wasn't until Summer Interlude (1951) that Bergman established a personal style. He came to international attention with Summer With Monika (1953), which the young French critic Jean-Luc Godard declared `the most beautiful film of this most original of cinéastes'.

Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) revealed Bergman's underrated lighter side, but his name would always be synonymous with intense studies of morality, madness, sexuality, faith and the agonies of artistic creation, which questioned the existence of God and the extent to which our actions are dictated by predestination or conscience. Having won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film with The Virgin Spring (1960), he embarked on the sobering trilogy of Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1962) and The Silence (1963), which saw Bergman and his celebrated stock company and new cinematographer Sven Nykvist adopt a more audacious aesthetic that reflected the New Waves sweeping across Europe.

A second tryptych, Hour of the Wolf, Shame (both 1968) and The Passion of Anna (1969), which became known as the `Fårö trilogy', showed Bergman at his most despondent. But while he was still capable of ambitious projects like Scenes from a Marriage (1973), he struggled with personal problems and critical indifference for much of the 1970s and few expected him to return to such majestic form with Fanny and Alexander (1983), which proved to be his last major work before he retired following Saraband (2003).

Over the years, Bergman has been accused of pessimism, detachment and a tendency to resort to obscurantism and contrivance. Yet his style has continually evolved and his films have presented a consistent portrait of humanity in its valiant struggle to deal with the subconscious, spiritual and supernatural aspects of existence and their impact on people's moral, social and creative choices. Moreover, he has always had the courage to tackle contentious subjects and bare his own soul on the screen. An artist of rare vision and fortitude, his place among cinema's greats is lastingly assured.