Norstedts, 2009. ISBN: 9789113019962
Reviewed by Sarah Death in SBR 2010:2
There are many ways in which the late Ingmar Bergman remains in the public eye. His films live on: anniversary seasons and retrospectives still abound. Memorabilia hunters found they needed deep pockets when some of Bergman’s effects were auctioned at Bukowski’s in Stockholm in 2009. Given the amount written about and by Bergman already, it was a surprise to learn that primary sources are still coming to light. Bergman’s fourth wife Käbi Laretei received a call in the autumn of 2008 while inventories of his property were in progress, and learned that a briefcase of her letters to him, presumed destroyed, had been found in the back of a wardrobe. There were 260 in all, most from the period 1958-62. It is these, complemented by Bergman’s letters to Käbi, which form the first part of this volume. The second part is Laretei’s ‘black book’, the secret diary in which she poured out her troubles and self-reproaches: all the things she could not tell Bergman, the adored ‘Immi’ for whom she left husband and daughter, to his face. The diary entries end with the birth of their son Daniel (Bergman’s seventh, or possibly eighth child) in 1962. The letters vary from the short and anguished to long and emotionally probing – striving for a spiritual union to match the physical one. Käbi calls what has swept over their bodies ‘a hot sirocco’ with which their souls need time to catch up. Käbi’s letters are the more fluent, lyrical, romantic, and Bergman’s the more dramatic and self-exploratory (some would say self-fixated). Käbi the renowned concert pianist at times employs terminology from her own world: ‘Our exchanges now ... are one long crescendo. What have I done to deserve this richness?’ she writes. Her hectic schedule of concert tours is of course one reason why letters played the role they did in this courtship between two pressured creative artists. Laretei, who in one letter even calls Bergman ‘my little son’, sometimes come across in this volume as the receptacle into which Bergman expected to be able to pour all his pain, but she was perhaps more his intellectual and artistic equal than any of his other women. She always insisted they be completely honest with each other, a challenge to which Bergman at first responded eagerly but ultimately failed to rise. Anneli Rogeman, reviewing the book in Tidningen Vi, sums up the ultimate incompatibility of the pair: ‘Ingmar Bergman is unfaithful and selfabsorbed. Käbi Laretei is wise and desperate. Bergman needs a muse. Laretei a rock, a support in life.’ Perhaps one of the most telling comments in Käbi’s diary is ‘I. says he only needs to put some distance between us to forget all the difficult things and think of me with nothing but great love.’ Bergman’s letters are long on emotions and short on news. Laretei’s give fascinating insights into the life of the concert pianist, but she is equivocal about including them; she wonders in her diary in 1962: ‘Is something broken between Immi and me? Is it because he seems pained by my happiness and stimulation, when they come from sources with which he doesn’t feel connected?’ As Bergman’s inner demons drove him from one woman to another, Laretei nonetheless remained a lifelong friend.When Bergman died they had been divorced for forty years, but her playing clearly went on providing something he hungered for. As she writes in her introduction, she continued to spend her summers in one of his houses on Fårö island, writing and rehearsing, where he would visit her for conversation and music. Estonian-born Laretei has already written about the turbulent early years of their relationship in her autobiographical Så som i en översättning (As In Translation, 2004). With another book due out in August 2010, and some five other volumes of memoirs already to her name, Laretei could be open to the criticism of selling her life by the pound in Sweden. But this slim volume certainly offers rich pickings to the celebrityhunter, the cinéaste and the classical musician alike. The sad thing for the readers of this book is that we know from the start how the love affair will end. But the aspect to celebrate is that these exchanges have survived at all. Sets of love letters like this will soon be a thing of the past. One imagines the leading auteurs of the twenty-first century prefer more ephemeral means of communication.