Bibi and Bergman

The great Stockholm born actor Bibi Andersson had a long and remarkable career spanning six decades. She was nominated by BAFTA for two roles in the same year, and was named best actress at Cannes at the age of 22 in Brink of Life, for which Ingmar Bergman was awarded best director.

While Andersson appeared in more than a hundred films and television productions throughout her life, her most significant roles were all for the same filmmaker, in a series of milestone collaborations with the legendary Bergman. In fact, Andersson was Bergman’s muse on a whopping thirteen of his projects.

She was first seen on film for Bergman in a small but pivotal role in Smiles of a Summer Night in 1955. She was still a teenager. Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal came next in 1957 – yes, Bergman made both of those classics in the same year! Her award-winning turn in Brink of Life came the next year, along with Ansiktet. Two minor Bergman works followed. The Devil’s Eye in 1960 and All These Women four years later.

It was 1966’s Persona that provided her signature role. Cast alongside Bergman’s other muse, Liv Ullman, Andersson turned from her luminous portrayals for Bergman in their previous collaborations to explore darker depths in this oblique psychological drama that one could spend hours, perhaps years, trying tp decipher. Even if the film’s meaning is difficult to grasp in full, there can be no doubt about the magnificent intrigues deployed onscreen as we watch the two cinematic titans square off.

Not only is Persona near the the pinnacle of Bergman’s classics, it also changed the way Andersson was perceived. After Persona, it was hard to imagine that anything was beyond her talent and range.

On the heels of that almost inscrutable masterpiece, Andersson came to America to star with James Garner and Sidney Poitier in the forgettable Duel at Diablo, in which she is repeatedly abducted and rescued. Since 1960s Hollywood had no idea what to do with her, Andersson returned to Europe for more work with Bergman. The Passion of Anna, again across from Liv Ullmann was followed two years later by a rare Bergman misfire, The Touch.

Andersson’s last truly great role came in 1973 in Scenes From a Marriage. While Ullman and Erland Josephson were the leads in Bergman’s 6-part series originally created for television, Andersson has a great supporting role as one half of an unhappy couple that Ullman and Josephson meet. Openly bitter and severe, Andersson steals every moment onscreen.

Andersson’s career would follow a dignified path for another thirty years, but few credits that followed offered her the richness of opportunity that could match her brilliance in the the ’50s and ’60s. I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, with Kathleen Quinlan in 1977, found Andersson in the role of a therapist trying to unlock the trauma of a young mental patient. Produced by Roger Corman, the film became her most notable American work even if it hasn’t aged particularly well.

A lovely cameo in the highly acclaimed Babette’s Feast would be the final significant role of her prolific career. The remainder of her work on film and television would be almost entirely in her home country of Sweden. Most of those projects were well respected but didn’t make a dent in the world of cinema outside of her native land.

Sadly, Andersson suffered a massive stroke in 2009 that left her unable to speak. She would be confined to a nursing home for the rest of her life.

The best of Andersson’s work bloomed during the nearly twenty-year period from 1955 to 1973, where she lit up the screen in more than a few masterpieces of world cinema. Bergman never cast her again after Scenes From a Marriage, and the ensuing years seldom offered roles that rose to her abilities. But the confluence of collaborative genius firing on all cylinders during that early peak is about as choice as it gets. Ingmar Bergman is one of the greatest filmmakers to walk the earth, and the radiance of Bibi Andersson was arguably his second most significant inspiration after Liv Ullman. That looks damn good on a resume.

Bibi Andersson died today. She was 83-years-old.

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