Bibi Andersson: Star of The Seventh Seal and Persona
Bibi Andersson is a Swedish actress who became a muse of the brilliant Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. She made her first memorable appearance in Smiles of a Summer Night, joining a talented ensemble of actors who starred in Bergman's films of the 1950s and 60s. Following her role in The Seventh Seal, as an innocent fairground performer who survives the destruction of the apocalypse, she played a hitchhiker in Wild Strawberries and projected a youthful hopefulness and innocence into this darkly poetic film. However, it was her incandescent portrayal of the nurse Alma in the 1966 film Persona that revealed her incredible talent.
Birgitta Andersson was born on 11 November 1935 in Kungsholmen, Stockholm. Her parents were Josef Andersson, a businessman, and Karin Mansion, a social worker. Bibi studied acting at the Terserus Drama School and the renowned Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm, with which she was associated for 30 years. Surprisingly, her first collaboration with Bergman was not a film, but an advertisement for a detergent in 1951. During the 1950s, however, Bibi starred in four Bergman films: The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Brink of Life and The Magician. Her roles in these films engendered a rather condescending view of her as a beautiful, but lightweight actress.
The Seventh Seal
The collaboration with Bergman was resumed with her most important film, Persona, in which she established herself as an actress of international stature. This self-reflexive masterwork owes much to Andersson's brilliant performance, which evinces greater emotional experience than was apparent in her earlier work. The film revealed Andersson’s true talent and elevated her to the first rank of Bergman's ensemble. Bergman later said:
‘Bibi Andersson is a close friend of mine–a lovely and extremely talented actress. She is totally oriented toward reality, always needing motives for what she does....An actress can do something unsuited to her and make it believable, but Bibi Andersson is so integrated a person that, for her, it is impossible to play something she doesn't believe in.’
The film explores the encounter between two women: Elisabet Vogler, a stage actress suffering from a psycho-semantic illness which makes her mute, and Sister Alma, a naïve young nurse charged with caring for her. To some extent the women's lives run parallel to each other: Alma has aborted a child, and experiences grief, while Elisabet tried and failed to abort her son and now experiences guilt over her lack of affection for him. In the serene setting of an isolated seaside cottage, the women’s identities overlap and merge, provoking a profound existential crisis.
Persona led to an increase in the number of cinematic roles offered her, and she appeared that same year opposite James Garner and Sidney Poitier in the western Duel at Diablo. Andersson then made a number of films with other Swedish directors. In 1963, she won the Silver Bear for Best Actress award for her role in Vilgot Sjöman's film The Mistress at the 13th Berlin International Film Festival. She again worked with Bergman in a supporting part in The Passion of Anna, in a central role opposite Elliott Gould in The Touch, and in a brief appearance in one episode of Scenes from a Marriage, which would be the last films they made together.
In 1990, Bibi worked as a theatre director in Stockholm. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, she worked primarily in television and as a theatre actress. She was also a supervisor for the humanitarian project Road to Sarajevo. In 1996, she published her autobiography Ett ögonblick (A Blink of the Eye).
Smiles of a Summer Night (1955)
Last Pair Out (1956)
The Seventh Seal (1957)
Mr. Sleeman Is Coming (1957)
Wild Strawberries (1957)
Brink of Life (1958)
The Magician (1958)
The Devil's Eye (1960)
The Pleasure Garden (1961)
The Mistress (1962)
All These Women (1964)
Duel at Diablo (1966)
The Passion of Anna (1969)
The Kremlin Letter (1970)
The Touch (1971)
The Man from the Other Side (1971)
Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
An Enemy of the People (1978)
The Concorde ... Airport '79 (1979)
Wallenberg: A Hero's Story (1985) (TV)
Poor Butterfly (1986)
Babette's Feast (1987)
The Butterfly's Dream (1994)
Elina: As If I Wasn't There (2002)
Arn – The Knight Templar (2007)
Bergman, Ingmar (1972). Persona and Shame: The Screenplays of Ingmar Bergman. trans. Keith Bradfield. New York: Grossman Publishers.
Michaels, Lloyd (ed.) (2000). Ingmar Bergman's Persona. Cambridge University Press.
Sontag, Susan (2002). "Bergman’s Persona". Styles of Radical Will. New York: Picador.
For a discussion of The Seventh Seal, please see:
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