Film Series / Events

Search All Film Series (1999-present)
Browse All Film Series

In the Company of Light: Sven Nykvist  

Best known for his three-decade collaboration with Ingmar Bergman, which produced several of the most important films of the modern cinema, the legendary cinematographer Sven Nykvist has had a unique impact on the film medium. He revitalized Bergman’s films in the late 1950s and 1960s by replacing the high-contrast lighting and overblown chiaroscuro imagery that had long defined the “Art” in art cinema with a purer, more ascetic approach (the “pencil sketch”). Nykvist’s new economy of visual means gave these films greater facility to capture the spare landscapes under Nordic light and to probe the souls of Bergman’s characters. Nykvist would go on in the 1970s and 1980s to work with a no less stellar array of filmmakers, often collaborating on major projects at key moments in their careers: Louis Malle on his first American film, Andrei Tarkovsky with his final film, Woody Allen with his return to drama. In the 1990s Nykvist continued to challenge himself, directing his own feature film while assisting Liv Ullmann in her successful transition from actor to director. A lifetime spent in the company of light has made him a consummate craftsman and one of the greatest cinematographers in the history of the medium.

Special thanks to Carl-Gustav Nykvist and Bengt Forslund for their invaluable assistance, and to SAS.

 


May 19 (Friday) 7 pm
May 21 (Sunday) 6 pm
May 30 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Light Keeps Me Company (Ljuset haller mig sällskap)

Directed by Carl-Gustaf Nykvist
Sweden 2000, video, color, 84 min.
Swedish with English subtitles

A portrait of Sven Nykvist directed by his filmmaker son Carl-Gustaf, Light Keeps Me Company combines extracts from the remarkable oeuvre of the legendary Swedish cinematographer and interviews with an extraordinary array of film-world notables whose work has been touched by his brilliant visual style. Ingmar Bergman, Woody Allen, and Roman Polanski put in rare screen appearances along with directors Jan Troell and Sir Richard Attenborough; actors Liv Ullmann, Erland Josephson, Susan Sarandon, and Gena Rowlands; and fellow cinematographers Vilmos Zsigmond and Lazlo Kovacs (who also contributed to the shooting of the film).

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

May 19 (Friday) 9 pm

Sawdist Amd Tinsel (Gycklarnas afton)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Sweden 1953, 35mm, b/w, 95 min.
With Ake Grönberg, Harriet Andersson, Anders Ek
Swedish with English subtitles

Bergman’s first indisputably great film—and his first collaboration with Nykvist—Sawdust and Tinsel (also known as The Naked Night) explores themes of sexual humiliation and domestic and professional wretchedness. The setting is the world of lowly traveling circus performers, condescending legitimate theater people, and a small town’s middle class. The use of landscape is striking, especially in the famous opening dream/flashback sequence, shot silent and in glaringly bright light, in which the pathetic clown Frost (Ek) drags his wife along the beach after he has discovered her bathing nude in front of a troop of soldiers. Critically rejected in its own time, this dark but haunting film, which James Baldwin once called “one of the most brutally erotic movies ever made,” is now considered a landmark in the Bergman oeuvre.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

May 20 (Saturday) 7 pm
Special Event—all seats $8
Actress Bibi Andersson and Critic Bengt Forslund in Person

Persona

Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Sweden 1966, 35mm, b/w, 81 min.
With Liv Ullmann, Bibi Andersson, Gunnar Björnstrand
Swedish with English subtitles

One of the most influential films of the 1960s and widely regarded as Bergman’s greatest work, Persona is a cinematic chamber piece whose simplicity belies a complex intervention into both the nature of human relationships and the limits of the cinema. In a striking precredit sequence, situated in a stark, featureless room in which a young boy attempts to reach out and touch the projected image of a woman’s face, we are introduced to the central theme of communication and the primal barriers that inhibit it. Elizabeth (Ullmann), a distinguished actress, has had a breakdown on stage and retreats into silence. She is sent to an isolated country house by the sea with a young nurse, Alma (Andersson), who is as loquacious as Elizabeth is silent. The women’s relationship takes on sexual overtones as their identities merge visually and reality becomes blurred with dream and fantasy.


May 20 (Saturday) 9:30 pm
Special Event—all seats $8
Actress Bibi Andersson and Critic Bengt Forslund in Person

The Touch

Directed by Ingmar Bergman
US/Sweden 1971, 16mm, color, 113 min.
With Bibi Andersson, Elliott Gould, Max von Sydow

In Bergman’s only English-language film, a married woman (Andersson) has an affair with an intense but volatile American archaeologist (Gould) and becomes torn between him and her staid Swedish husband (von Sydow). Apart from the support of Andrew Sarris and several others, the film garnered little recognition among critics. But this gritty, erotic melodrama is emotionally effective, contains wonderful imagery of both Sweden and England, and in its attempt to reach broader audiences provides a refreshing departure from Bergman’s more brooding metaphysical endeavors.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

May 21 (Sunday) 8 pm

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Directed by Philip Kaufman
US 1988, 35mm, color, 171 min.
With Lena Olin, Daniel Day-Lewis, Juliette Binoche

Based on the acclaimed novel by Milan Kundera, Kaufman’s film explores the highly active love life of a charming Czech surgeon (Day-Lewis) against the backdrop of the Prague Spring of 1968 and the subsequent Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Real footage of the military crackdown and street violence is woven into the humorous, voyeuristic tale of a man who lives “light” (his request to “take off your clothes” becomes the film’s mantra) but is inevitably brought into contact with the seriousness of the times. Nykvist earned an Academy Award nomination for his cinematography in this intelligent and richly ambitious work.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

May 22 (Monday) 7 pm

Pretty Baby

Directed by Louis Malle
US 1978, 35mm, color, 109 min.
With Brooke Shields, Keith Carradine, Susan Sarandon

The inspiration for Malle’s first American film was E. J. Bellocq’s remarkable photographic record of New Orleans’ red-light district, Storyville, in the early years of the twentieth century. A fourteen-year-old (Shields) is cheer-fully sold into the trade by her mother (Sarandon) and becomes involved with Bellocq himself (Carradine), who finds her a compelling subject of erotic and aesthetic interest. Malle and cinematographer Nykvist achieve the luxuriant look of the period in vivid detail and combine it with a timeless sensuality that has made the film a succès de scandale to this day.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

May 22 (Monday) 9:15 pm

What's Eating Gilbert Grape?

Directed by Lasse Hallström
US 1993, 35mm, color, 118 min.
With Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Juliette Lewis

Swedish director Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog, The Cider House Rules) brings his unique sensibility for finding the whimsical and bizarre in the everyday to Peter Hedges’s cult novel about the life of a dysfunctional but appealing family in small town America. Gilbert (Depp) is the family’s able, responsible, bread-winning member, who must cope with a mentally retarded brother (DiCaprio, in an Oscar-nominated performance), two immature and  squabbling sisters, and an immobile, 500-pound mother in mourning for her suicide husband. Strange, whimsical, and sweet, the film makes Gilbert’s good nature and longing to escape a plausible variation on the American dream.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

May 23 (Tuesday) 7 pm

Crimes and Misdemeanors

Directed by Woody Allen
US 1989, 35mm, color, 107 min.
With Martin Landau, Angelica Huston, Jerry Orbach

This comic drama tackles modern questions of morality as a brilliant ensemble cast portrays the familiar world of Allen’s rich and troubled upper-class New York intelligentsia. A prominent ophthalmologist (Landau) resorts to underworld solutions to deal with a troublesome mistress, while a committed documentary filmmaker (Allen) wrestles with the moral dimensions of the medium in a satirical subplot. Allen restages an almost scene-by-scene sequence from Wild Strawberries here—oddly, one of the few Bergman masterpieces that Sven Nykvist did not photograph.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

May 23 (Tuesday) 9 pm

The Tenant (Le Locataire)

Directed by Roman Polanski
US/France 1976, 35mm, color, 125 min.
With Roman Polanski, Isabelle Adjani, Shelley Winters
French with English subtitles

Polanski casts himself in the role of a Polish office clerk working in Paris who sets up residence in a new apartment, only to find the elderly tenants of the building inexplicably hostile toward him. After discovering that the previous renter, a woman, had hurled herself out a window, he becomes obsessed with unearthing her story and increasingly convinced his neighbors are trying to kill him. At once terrifying and funny, the film asks us to ponder whether he is experiencing a mysterious, Kafkaesque persecution or is simply stark raving mad. Nykvist’s contribution to this psychological thriller is rendered through its stunning visual realization.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

May 24 (Wednesday) 7 pm
May 26 (Friday) 7 pm

The Ox (Oxen)

Directed by Sven Nykvist
Sweden 1991, 35mm, color, 92 min.
With Stellan Skarsgard, Ewa Fröling, Max von Sydow
Swedish with English subtitles

Set in rural southern Sweden during the catastrophic crop failures and famine of the 1860s, Nykvist’s restrained and expressive debut film as a director tells of a family’s struggle to survive. The moral crisis that ensues is encapsulated in the figure of the ox: the only source for food and yet the only means for the survival of their landlord’s farm. The film delineates a society under severe strain, held together solely by the strictest religious and social codes. Subtly varying color tones reflect the characters’ changing states of mind while the seasonal structure of the film culminates in a springlike scene of reconciliation.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

May 24 (Wednesday) 9 pm
HFA Archival Print

From the Life of the Marionettes (Aus dem Leben der Marionetten)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman
West Germany 1980, 35mm, b/w and color, 104 min.
With Robert Aztorn, Martin Benrath, Christine Buchegger 
German with English subtitles

Bergman says he felt at ease with the German actors and language in this film, having worked for years in German theater after leaving Sweden in the 1970s because of false tax evasion charges and considerable persecution. Here he takes up minor characters from Scenes from a Marriage and develops them further: a man in an uncommunicative and unhappy marriage commits a violent crime in a brothel and his motives are explored in classical Bergman fashion. In this rarely seen film, Bergman directly confronts the issue of bisexuality implicit in much of his earlier work.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

May 26 (Friday) 9 pm
May 28 (Sunday) 8:30 pm

The Magic Flute (Trollflöjten)

Directed by Ingmar Bergman
Sweden 1975, 35mm, color, 135 min.
With Josef Köstlinger, Irma Urrila, Ulrik Cold
Swedish with English subtitles

This filmed version of Mozart’s opera, made for Swedish television, was staged in an eighteenth-century theater with spectacular sets and a live audience. There are backstage scenes, reaction shots from the audience, and a breakthrough approach to filming opera. Nykvist’s intimate and flexible cinematography captures the performers in closeup, transforming them into dynamic screen presences. The result is an incandescent film, a deeply human rendering of Mozart’s fairy tale that resonates with Bergman’s cinematic investigations of idealized love.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top

May 27 (Saturday) 7 pm

Private Confessions (Enskilda samtal)

Directed by Liv Ullmann
Sweden 1997, 35 mm, color, 131 min.
With Pernilla August, Max von Sydow, Samuel Froler
Swedish with English subtitles

Ullmann’s study of the emotional consequences of a married woman’s affair was written by her mentor Ingmar Bergman, who recast incidents from his own parents’ marriage in the early twentieth century. August gives a staggering performance as a woman who, like Dreyer’s Gertrud, has capitulated to her desire for a younger man and must face the consequences of her choices. Ullmann has wrought a fine and intense chamber piece, reminiscent of Ibsen and Strindberg, that extracts excellent performances from the distinguished cast and makes intimate use of Nykvist’s luminous cinematography.

Browse Other Series from this Season
Return to Top
Harvard Film Archive • Carpenter Center • 24 Quincy Street • Cambridge MA 02138 • 617-495-4700