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Unknown Bergman-script from the 60s to be filmed

Ingmar Bergman.
Ingmar Bergman. Foto: TT

A hitherto unknown script by Ingmar Bergman, titled ”Sixty-four minutes with Rebecka”, will be turned into film by prominent Swedish director Suzanne Osten. But first it will premiere to the world as a radioplay on the national Swedish radio on the 6th of November. The script was originally written for a collaboration with Federico Fellini and Akira Kurosawa, and have been hidden in the archives since 1969.

On the 7th of August 1969, Ingmar Bergman was on Fårö writing the last line of his script ”Sixty-Four Minutes with Rebecka”. Initially it was intended as Bergman’s contribution to an exclusive collaboration with Akira Kurosawa and Federico Fellini. The leading role was supposed to be played by Katherine Ross from classic films such as ”The Graduate” and ”Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”. In the end, however, the collaboration between the three iconic directors fell through. The script was shelved and was not found until the iconic Bergman donated his collections to what was later to be the Ingmar Bergman Foundation in the early 2000s.​

Read more: An exclusive excerpt from Bergman's unknown script ”Sixty-Four Minutes with Rebecka”

On Sunday the 6th of November the world premiere for Suzanne Osten’s radioplay ”Sixty-four Minutes with Rebecka” will take place at the swedish public service channel Swedish Radio. This highly intense play revolves around a pregnant and emotionally alienated teacher of the deafmute. The script describes her search for sexual and political liberation right in the midst of the radical 68-movement.

– These are the only 64 minutes when Bergman is a feminist to the full. He has always had strong women in his film, but in this play he takes a step further. He’s right in the middle of the Zeitgeist of 1969 – a time when an enormous wave of change swept across Sweden, and he manages to capture it in a marvelous fashion. It’s a hell of a good script!, Suzanne Osten exclaims.

– Considering my long history as Bergman’s enemy, I was totally indifferent in the beginning, but when I read the script I was super-delighted. Just for that one moment Bergman existed in the same timeframe as me, but then we chose entirely different routes, Suzanne Osten explains, who amongst other things was active in the feminist avant-garde movement Group 8 at the time.

Foto: Magnus HallgrenFoto: Magnus Hallgren

This would have been an impossible project while Bergman was alive – after all, he wanted to control everything.

For Suzanne Osten to take on a Bergman-script is an ironic event of truly cultural and historical dimensions. It’s no secret that these two swedish heavy-weights were openly antagonistic toward each other, up until Bergman’s death in 2007.

– This would have been an impossible project while Bergman was alive – after all, he wanted to control everything, and no doubt would have fought with me: ”What the hell, is that damned old bag going to do this?”, Suzanne Osten laughs, while imitating the ’demon’ director’s characteristic voice.

The script for ”Sixty-four Minutes with Rebecka” was written when Bergman was on the verge of taking his films a step further internationally, by entering into the English-speaking sphere. The idea was that it should be filmed in English with the title ”The White Wall”. The previous few years he had premiered with a number of groundbreaking films like ”Persona”, ”The Silence”, ”Shame”, and ”Passion of Anna”. ”64 Minutes with Rebecka” moves seamlessly between dream and reality, in which the main character ends up in various critical situations.

– Yes, although it’s more like being caught up in a nightmare. While recording (for radio) we’ve joked about ”Rebecka in Wonderland”. Several of the situations she gets caught up in are spot on Kafka-esque and humorous, says Suzanne Osten, and continues:

– Bergman borrowed heartily from the French New Wave and Antonioni but made it all his own. The script is feminist, queer, homo erotic and anti-authoritarian. It’s an incredibly courageous, complex and radical script.

Foto: Fredrik FunckOne of the scenes takes place in a sex-club where Serge Gainsbourg’s and Jane Birkin’s kitschy hit tune ”69 annee erotique” is played in the background. Bergman created a sado-masochistic scenario in which Rebecka asks a man to have sex with her: ”I want it to really hurt”.

– It’s a script about a woman exploring her sexuality, it’s all about conquering, discovering and to help oneself to what’s offered. It’s not ”nice”, but it’s a different image compared to romantic love without the compound, complex sexuality, which started being discussed at this time. Bergman also portrays the confrontation with pornography of this time.

– Rebecka has a streak of self-destructivity, harbours a sense of outsidership, and says that she can’t feel. But I sense that she has control over the situation. According to my intrepretation it’s partially Bergman talking here. Just like in his films, he is both the men and the women characters in this play, she says.

Suzanne Osten is also of the opinion that there is a clear political streak in Bergman’s films from the end of the 1960s, not least in ”Shame”, which has been regarded as Bergman’s commentary on the Vietnam war.

– ”Shame” focuses on similar issues that we face today, with Aleppo and Mosul. What does it do to us, as we’re just standing there, watching. What do we become? Bergman portrayed a moral collapse, but unfortunately he was attacked by the Left, headed by [author] Sara Lidman for not taking a public stance against the Vietnam war, she says, adding:

– One of the most interesting things about Bergman was that he wrote interpretable texts which can be coloured differently, depending on your world view. It has been incrediby pleasurable to work with this script, which gives rise to so many different associations, Osten says with delight.

She is even so excited that she also plans to make a feature film based on the script. Recently she received funds from the Swedish Film Institute to prepare the devolopment of this project, which is planned to premiere in the jubilee year 2018 – 100 years after Bergman’s birth.

– I have so many ideas of how to go about this, but everything is secret so far, says Suzanne Osten, whose previous films include ”the Mozart Brothers”, ”The Guardian Angel” and her latest called ”The Girl, the Mother and the Demons”.

It’s a script about a woman exploring her sexuality, it’s all about conquering, discovering and to help oneself to what’s offered.

To find a script of this calibre is extremely unusual, according to Jan Holmberg, CEO of the Ingmar Bergman Foundation. Although Bergman wrote several scripts that were never filmed, ”Sixty-four Minutes with Rebecka” was totally unknown even for the most confirmed of connoisseurs.

– It’s quite on par with finding an unpublished manuscript by Ernest Hemingway or an unknown painting by Picasso – incredible news. It’s Bergman at the peak of his abilities, and in the same category as his best work – hardly some juvenile stuff written for the writing desk drawer, he says.

According to Jan Holmberg ”Sixty-four Minutes with Rebecka” confirms Bergmans entire oeuvre, yet is like ”a missing piece of the pussle”.

– It’s an extremely thrilling script, considering it’s Bergman – besides those typical marital crises or complicated mother-daughter relations, there is violent sex, homosexuality, and a strong feminist perspective, which hardly can be found in other Bergman-films, Holmberg says, while also pointing out Bergman’s main theme of communication difficulties.

It was in the spring of this year that he offered SR Drama to produce this script, in the right time for the year 2018, 100 years after Bergman’s birth. But SR Drama, in the midst of going in for novelty, didn’t want to wait. That Suzanne Osten had been chosen as director came as a total surprise for Jan Holmberg.

– I cheered – after all Osten and Bergman is a ”match made in heaven”. Osten is one of our foremost filmmakers, and had a very complicated relationshipt to Bergman who discouraged her. I think Ingmar Bergman owes her this, and I’m sure the result will be fantastic.

Photo in the text: Magnus Hallgren, Fredrik Funck
Translation: Maaret Koskinen

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