Bibi Andersson has died.
This happened a few days back and it’s been a bit of a rock to my world. I discovered her as Ingmar Bergman’s muse, starring alongside Liv Ullman and Max Von Sydow in several of his films. Like Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, Michelangelo Antonioni, or Tim Burton, the Swedish legend had his regular crew of collaborators and kept them around for multiple films. Acting together made each film feel familial, like a troupe that loved being together and working together. Each film doesn’t just feel full of artistic merit or creative passion, it feels like they truly love being at each others’ sides and working to make something magical.
I came to Andersson through a different avenue than most of the film buff community, most of them seeing The Seventh Seal in college or having it recommended to them. It’s certainly the most iconic of the Bergman films, but it was one I put off. Instead, I began with The Magician. Intrigued by the cover of the Criterion edition of the film, I was drawn to the dark and macabre imagery and the idea of a creator fearing being discovered as a farce. Bibi plays Sara, a servant that serves as a form of seductress in the film. She manages to play awkward and sexy and funny all at once, peddling potential love potions and flirting with wanton abandon. I found her charming and tucked the name in the back of my head to keep a lookout for her in other films.
And I did indeed find her again, in another Bergman film. She played another Sara, this time a stand-in for a long-lost love in Wild Strawberries. This is actually one of the biggest films for me, one that cemented my love of Andersson and Bergman as collaborators. A counter to Victor Sjöström’s Isak Borg, an aging physician headed to accept an award for his accomplishments, Andersson is one of a trio of young people he picks up hitchhiking. As her youthful personality, the optimistic brightness and lackadaisical attitude towards the two men travelling with her (both of which are enamored) blooms brightly, Borg is reminded of another Sara. We’re given several flashbacks to his younger days, where we learn he was in love with another Sara (also played by Andersson). As we watch his youthful romance fall to pieces, we’re also gifted with the sight of him recapturing his hold on his emotions and connecting with this charming young woman, the palpable chemistry she exudes with everyone is astonishing and I began to appreciate what kind of actress I was watching.
Continuing on to Persona, I finally found the performance she should be known for. The film clearly inspired David Lynch, another director I’ve developed an obsession with, due to its nontraditional method of plot diversions and structure. Andersson is paired with Liv Ullman in a role that demands her to again play more than one role, but this time she is confronted with the task of morphing into her counterpart. As the two women spend time together, the nature of their relationship begins to feel romantic and yet controlled. Years later, Lynch would crib this for his film Mulholland Drive as he pushed his two actresses to also fold into each other. Andersson’s performance stunned me, a woman driven by a personality and urges that are not fully her own. It’s a powerful moment for an actress to have, all of quiet and contemplative while simmering just beneath the surface.
Bibi Andersson was a crucial figure for me when it came to studying performance and collaboration. Her work with Ingmar Bergman cemented her as one of the great actresses of her age, comparable to Monica Vitti or Audrey Hepburn, and I found each performance more captivating than the last.
Bibi, you were a treasure and will be missed. Thank you for your bright and optimistic performances, for your work with Bergman, and for never holding back in a role.