July 30th, 2007


Ingmar Bergman and the Little World

The death of Ingmar Bergman makes me think about how immensely a single human being can contribute in the space of a lifetime for the world to become a better place. He died peacefully in his sleep. It seems that God, whose silence he resented so much as to make an entire trilogy of films about it, wanted it to be known that this was a much loved son who didn't deserve to suffer in the end. He left the stage the right way. The music has come to an end without much noise. Just a few final bars followed by the reverent silence audiences never fail to make when they've heard a masterpiece, before bursting into thunderous applause.

The presence of Ingmar Bergman on Earth in the 20th century makes me proud of being his contemporary, proud of being part of the audience when Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage, Face to Face, Autumn Sonata and Fanny and Alexander were first released.

Between 1990 and 1991, I was in the cast of a show called Atos de Loucura (Acts of Insanity), which ended with the speech Oskar Ekdahl makes to his theatre company on Christmas eve of 1907, in the wings, after being on the stage with them in the yearly Christmas play, in Fanny and Alexander. He tells them what he thinks being an actor is about, what the theatre is about, extending of course to what the cinema is about. He talks about "the little world" and what happens when it reflects "the big world." Nobody else, not even Shakespeare in his famous Hamlet soliloquy, in which the prince is so astonished by the power of the actor's art, ending with the famous "The play is the thing ..." not even he touched the heart of this great art so truthfully.

I had the honor of being in charge of Oskar Ekdahl's speech at the end of Atos de Loucura. The endlessly delicate segment towards the middle of the second movement of Brahms' piano concerto #2 was heard, I looked at the audience as if they were the actors of the Ekdahl company, and said the text quite simply, just looking at people and letting the unbelievably beautiful scene play itself. Invariably, they were so moved that it was possible to see quite a few of them crying very softly. They often came to speak to me after the show, to tell me how deeply the scene had touched them and to say nice things about my work. It was wonderful to hear these compliments from total strangers. Yet, every time it happened, I said the same thing: "You're very generous. But this is Ingmar Bergman. No one ever goes out of step with something written by a genius."

It was indeed an honor and a rare privilege to be able to say his words on the stage to a live audience. There was in the entire monologue a sense of nobility and truthfulness that, for as long as it lasted, seemed to pervade the whole audience and then, as people left the theatre, stay with them. I never talk much about my work. Certainly not to praise it. But there's no reason for being afraid that telling all this might cause the impression that I have suddenly turned into a self-conceited schmuck who thinks too highly of his own work. I never thought I was responsible for the tremendous impact the scene had on the audience. That kind of scene plays itself. And as I said at the time I did it, I believe Ingmar Bergman was a genius and no actor ever goes out of step with something written by a genius.

Although he was 89, and death is part of life, I was shocked to learn that he had died. I tried to keep cool, but in a moment there were tears in my eyes. I remembered that some ten years ago I went as far as writing the first draft of a letter I intended to send to him, care of Svenskfilmindustri, asking him to consider writing a book with advise for actors--one of those things we all plan to do but never do.

Today, the tears in my eyes were perhaps due to having just realized that he did leave advise for actors. We are the actors. All of us. The common men in the streets and the ones who rule the world. Every human being goes through life making up characters for himself and for others. Ingmar Bergman knew it and spend his whole life making an unforgettable speech for us to understand that "the little world reflects the big world. And because it does, it can make people understand the big world a little better."

Then Oskar Ekdahl finished his speech and said goodbye. Now his final words will be my own private farewell to this great master who managed to make life on Earth so much more dignified quite simply by making the little world reflect the big world. But since I am Brazilian, I'm printing them in Portuguese, exactly as I said them in 1990 on the stage of a theatre called Centro Cultural Avatar, which no longer exists, although for me it will exist forever. It's widely known anyway, and doesn't need translation. Besides, all over the world today, in practically all the languages, with great reverence and gratitude, people will be quoting Ingmar Bergman:

"Espero que possamos nos encontrar de novo em pouco tempo, com a alma e o corpo em plena forma. Daqui até lá, eu desejo a vocês tudo de bom. Tudo de bom!"

Farewell, Oskar Ekdahl.