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By Kevin Billinghurst
Stockholm
30 July 2007

The Swedish film and stage director Ingmar Bergman has died at the age of 89. Kevin Billinghurst has more for VOA from Stockholm.

Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman (file photo)
Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman (file photo)
Widely acknowledged as one of the most influential figures in the history of cinema, Ingmar Bergman directed dozens of films, beginning with Crisis in 1946 and concluding in 2003 with Saraband, a televised sequel to the 1973 Scenes from a Marriage.

While his early films were successful in his native Sweden, Bergman's international breakthrough came in 1957 with The Seventh Seal, an allegorical study of nuclear age angst that includes the iconic scene in which a medieval knight played by Max von Sydow meets and plays chess with death in a plague-ridden landscape.

Bergman's films were not easily accessible, challenging generations of audiences to peel away layers of significance from long blocs of dialogue and highly expressive cinematography. He once told a radio interviewer that he was often asked what his films mean.

"I think the most essential thing is to give the audience an emotional experience, and from that can arise an intellectual understanding," said Bergman. "People begin to think about things that they have not thought of before, whether it is about themselves, the society they live in, the religion they practice or how they feel inside. But the most important thing is to convey an emotional experience."

Ingmar Bergman was born in Uppsala, Sweden on July 14, 1918. His father, a Lutheran minister, was described repeatedly by the filmmaker as a strict disciplinarian.

In his 1987 autobiography The Magic Lantern, Bergman wrote that he lost his faith by the age of eight, but that his lifetime creative output was strongly influenced by his unhappy childhood.

In 1971, Bergman received The Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award at the Academy Awards ceremony. Three of his films have won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film: The Virgin Spring in 1961; Through a Glass Darkly in 1962; and, in 1984, the semi-autobiographical tale of childhood robbed of warmth and color in a religious home, Fanny and Alexander.

Bergman died Monday, following a lengthy illness, at his home on the Baltic island of Fårö.

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