Karin’s Face is a 14 minute short portrait by Ingmar Bergman of his mother Karin Åkerblom . Filmed in 35mm, it consists of a sequence of photos accompanied by Bergman’s voiceover and some delicate piano music written by Bergman’s former wife Käbi Laretei. It’s a fond biography.
Family photos are usually only interesting for immediate relatives. Karin’s Face is of interest to a wider audience for two reasons. Firstly, it’s an evocative portrayal of a life and of time passing. Secondly, we see real photos of his mother and of his father Erik Bergman, both of whom are depicted in a number of Bergman’s fictional films.
Although we do learn some details of Karin’s life story, Bergman’s approach is more contemplative, imagining the stories and personalities behind the images. We see a lively, happy young woman in her youth. We see her joy as she becomes her mother – first with her daughter Dag, and then in 1918 with Ingmar himself.
But in later photos, Karin is often in background.
In his later years, Bergman wrote about Karin and Erik’s complicated and difficult relationship. His father could be overbearing and their marriage was often unhappy. Karin’s natural exhuberance was often suppressed by Erik’s cruel authority. Do we read something of this in these photos, in the faces and body language?
Bergman clearly loved his mother, and this is clear from this short film. His own relationship with his father was more strained and it seems he used filmmaking as a way to try to understand his feelings towards Erik. His parents are best known echoed in Fanny and Alexander, but they also are the protagonists in the screenplays he wrote for Palme d’Or winner The Best Intentions (1991) directed by Billie August, and in Liv Ullman’s Private Confessions (1996). It’s fascinating to gaze at real photos of them. Do we see hints at the personalities we know through those other films?
This short film ends with a journey back through time, revisiting the photos in a reverse chronology. A contrast of an elderly, restrained woman with her happy younger self. And a poignant reflection on memory and the passing of time that’s relevant to us all.
The Ingmar Bergman Archive page Karin’s Face is here.