In 1960 Ingmar Bergman finished his screenplay to “Through a Glass Darkly”. He wanted to screen the film on the Orkney islands, but the film company realized it would be too expensive, and did everything they could to persuade him to think otherwise. He was taken to the Swedish island Fårö, and fell in love with this windswept destination.
But before his arrival on Fårö, Bergman was somewhat skeptical. His encounter with the island was, however, life-changing. He has said, “If one wished to be solemn, it could be said that I had found my landscape, my real home; if one wished to be funny, one could talk about love at first sight.” For 40 years, Ingmar Bergman lived, worked and found inspiration on Fårö and was to shoot six films and one television series there.
In 1965 Bergman returned to Fårö, this time to produce “Persona”. To do both outdoor and indoor scenes, a house was erected on a high platform. The view was so stunning that the director wanted to build a house right there. However, the cinematographer Sven Nykvist knew about an even nicer place, a few kilometer further south, and one night they visited the place where “beach and forest meet”.
Subsequently he purchased the land and built a house on it. The house was finished in 1967. The architect was Kjell Abramson, who was involved in the rebuilding of the Dramaten theatre in Stockholm, where Bergman was the director. Bergman compared the job to a regular staging. “It’s like sitting with a scenographer, drawing.”
He stayed on Fårö as often as his Stockholm duties would allow until 2003, when he sold his apartment in Stockholm and moved permanently to the island. Since then he very seldom left his new home. In the 1970s Bergman almost realized his plans to build his own film production center there. But the trouble he had with the tax authorities at that time forced him to exile. However, he did build a fully functional studio there, where Scenes from a Marriage was filmed.
Fårö became Bergman’s haven, his creative wellspring and a central character in many of his films. Here he filmed movies twice a day in a converted barn. With its rocky beaches and weather-beaten pine forests, Fårö epitomized Bergman’s unsparing and unsettled internal world.
To Liv Ullmann, who starred in Persona, and was Ingmar Bergman’s girlfriend, it was the beginning of a new life.
She describes a screening summer of happiness, where the two one afternoon stray away from the rest of the film crew to find a small hill of grey stones – and sat and watched the sea. “There he took my hand and said, ‘You and I are painfully connected’,” she writes.
The films which make the most expressive use of the distinctive Fårö landscape are Through a Glass Darkly, Persona, Shame and A Passion. The barren, stony landscape framed by the Baltic Sea, has often been regarded as a metaphor for some of his characters’ inner emotional states.
For his 70th birthday Bergman invited several of his exes to Fårö. His guest list included Liv Ullmann, concert pianist Käbi Laretei and former leading lady Bibi Andersson. According to Linn Ullmann, who was there, “These are women who know how to go out onstage and be fabulous. And they are fabulous. There was no bad acting. My father hated bad acting.”
Bergman died in his home on July 30, 2007, at age 89. His will, written in the 90s, instructed his heirs to strike the set – to sell off his houses, his cinema and their contents to the highest bidder. He wrote that he wanted no emotional hullabaloo. The proceeds should be divided among his nine heirs.
The question of how the properties were to be administered as the cultural legacy of one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema sparked off a debate that reached far beyond Sweden’s borders.
Bergman had often expressed the wish that these buildings should continue to be meeting places for people working within various types of artistic fields, also after his death. His youngest daughter, the author Linn Ullmann, lived on Fårö during her father’s illness in spring of 2007.
“My father and Fårö was a great love story,” said Linn on an overcast afternoon in July, pointing out the imposing trees he refused to cut back because he wanted to witness the effects of wind and time on them. And yet, rather than celebrate the panorama outside, Bergman contained and framed it, lining his rooms with small windows that allowed only glimpses of forest and sea.
“There has not been a day in my life where I have not been thinking of death, or when it has not touched me,” said Ingmar Bergman once. He chose the place where he would be buried, a corner on Fårö cementry. He wanted distance to the road because he was “so sensitive to sound”.
After Bergman’s death, the family committed the auction houses Christie’s and Bukowskis to sell the properties. The deadline was set to August 2009. The media speculated both in price and buyers. The Swedish government rejected that it would go in and rescue the legacy if the country’s greatest director.
Hans Gude Gudesen, who made his fortune in IT, paid an undisclosed sum for the property, which was valued at that time at between €3-4m.
“My father and Fårö was a great love story,” says Linn on an overcast afternoon in July, pointing out the imposing trees he refused to cut back because he wanted to witness the effects of wind and time on them. And yet, rather than celebrate the panorama outside, Bergman contained and framed it, lining his rooms with small windows that allowed only glimpses of forest and sea.
Hans Gude Gudesen became aware of Linn Ullman’s plans for the properties and contacted her. Under the leadership of Linn Ullmann and Brit Bildøen, and in cooperation with a dedicated Board of Diretors, the important and time-consuming work of developing and formalizing what was to become the Ingmar Bergman Estate.
In May 2010 The Bergman Estate on Fårö welcomed its first guests.
Ingmar Bergman’s Passion, written by Tor Kjolberg
Related article: The Best of Bergman