The release schedule for a new documentary series about Liv Ullmann worked great as I prepared for an upcoming trip to Scandinavia. My travel plans always include watching projects set in or about my destination, something covered in my book Around the World in 80 Movies. Any movie fan going to Sweden must deal with Ingmar Bergman, considered one of the world’s greatest filmmakers ever. Catching the best of
Bergman means watching Ullmann, a brilliant actress in ten of his films. But as the documentary points out, her accomplishments go beyond soul searing performances. A best-selling author, she directed five films, numerous stage productions, and served as the first woman ambassador for UNICEF, helping children around the world. Given Ullmann’s background on film, documentary Director Dheeraj Akolkar easily finds visual material to push events forward. He also interviews an impressive gallery of fans, including Cate Blanchett, Jessica Chastain, John Lithgow, and Jeremy Irons, who all worked with Ullmann as a performer or director. But Ullmann herself comes off best, her wit and insight on display. As a director, she understands much of what made Bergman’s films so memorable, including his propensity for focusing the camera on a performer’s face and letting it roll in a long take that reveals the real thoughts going on inside the head. Simple? Yes, but—and this makes a very big but—the performers need the instinct, intelligence, and depth to manage such a tricky skill. As the series Liv Ullmann: A Road Less Traveled repeatedly reveals, she demonstrates all those traits on screen and in her own life.