Liv Ullmann: More Than a Muse

More Than a Muse is a season of cinema celebrating the great actress, filmmaker, and emblem of 60s and 70s arthouse cinema – Liv Ullmann, who was presented with an Honorary Oscar this year in recognition of a lifetime of outstanding service to her profession.

Born in Tokyo in 1938, Ullmann began her career as a stage actress in Norway and went on to be given the lead role in Norwegian director Edith Carlmar’s final feature film, The Wayward Girl. It was with the 1966 film Persona – the first of many films made with director Ingmar Bergman – that she found international recognition. Ullmann’s nine post-Persona collaborations with Bergman – with whom she also lived for a few years and had a child – were distinguished by their sheer emotional range, with her powerhouse candour fuelling Shame, Scenes from a Marriage, Autumn Sonata, and other major works. She made her feature directorial debut in 1992 with Sofie and brought her career full circle when she directed Faithless (2000), based on a script by Bergman. Sharing a close bond throughout the rest of Bergman’s life, even once their relationship had ended, Liv’s final film with Bergman was also his final outing as a director – Saraband (2003).

Despite often being described as Ingmar Bergman’s ‘muse’, throughout the 12 years Ullmann was making movies with Bergman, she made a further 15 movies with other directors. Four of these were in Hollywood, a time Ullmann speaks of dismissively: “They thought I was so sweet – I did not look like Ingmar Bergman’s erotic women at all. Everybody wanted me in their movies. So I was a Hollywood star for two years. I did four Hollywood movies and I managed to almost close down two studios.”

As an actor, Ullmann creates wonderful alchemy with a range of performers, including Bibi Andersson (Persona) and Ingrid Thulin (Cries and Whispers). Similarly, Faithless highlights Ullmann’s ability as a director to nurture distinctive voices from others, drawing on her experiences as a theatre actor to position the camera as a crucial player within any given scene.

Alongside her staggering filmography, Ullmann is also a humanitarian campaigner and centres her work around her relationships with people, human connections, and empathy.

Throughout history, the achievements of women working across the arts – from writers to visual artists to filmmakers – have been largely undervalued, with the title of creative genius having been reserved primarily for men. In Liv Ullmann: More Than A Muse, we invite you to explore Ullmann’s role as an active creative collaborator on those many famous Bergman collaborations, as well as a significant filmmaker in her own right.

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