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Julie Andrews Claudia Cardinale
Bibi Andersson - Goddesses of the Silver Screen
869    Dibyendu Banerjee    02/11/2020   

The name, Bibi Anderson, may not ring a bell in the minds of Hollywood film lovers, but she was a reputed Swedish actress who was best known for her frequent collaborations with the famous filmmaker Ingmar Bergman and appeared in his ten features and three television films. Born as Berit Elisabeth Andersson on11 November 1935 in Stockholm, she was the daughter of Karin, a social worker, and Josef Andersson, a businessman. From her early age, Bibi Anderson was attracted to performing arts and was inspired by her elder sister Gerd Andersson, studying ballet at the Royal Swedish Opera and made her first acting performance in 1951. Following the example of her sister, Bibi Anderson at first took admission to the Gösta Terserus stage school and later studied acting at Stockholm’s highly regarded Royal Dramatic Theatre, the school that had earlier produced the iconic Greta Garbo.

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Andersson met Bergman for the first time while she was still at school as she appeared in one of the imaginative commercials he made in the early 1950s for the soap brand Bris and played a princess who had to give a hundred kisses to a Pigman in return for a bar of soap. She began her regular screen career in 1953 in the fresh-faced girl roles while studying at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in the Swedish capital and appeared in Dum-Born (1953) playing alongside Nils Poppe and En natt på Glimmingehus (1954) with Edvard Persson. These fresh-faced girl roles into which she became typecast during the 1950s helped her immensely to remain the natural, and a fresh dream of youth, in the Swedish film for more than a decade.

In The Seventh Seal
In The Seventh Seal

The attraction of a romantic relationship with Bergman made Andersson quit school and follow him to the Malmö city theatre where he was a director. During that time, apart from performing in plays, she also appeared in a small role in Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) and then used her carefree persona to play a strolling player, Mia, the devoted wife of the child-like juggler, in Bergman’s epoch-making The Seventh Seal (1957), for which he was awarded the Jury Special Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. In the film, Andersson brought beauty and gleam into plague-ridden 14th-century Europe, serving wild strawberries, signifying the coming of spring to the errant knight, who questioned about life and death, and the reality behind the existence of God as he was playing chess against the Grim Reaper.

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During the same year, Andersson also appeared in Summer Place Wanted (1957), the story of a married couple having romantic interludes in the summer, directed by Hasse Ekman, and Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957), where Andersson again represented the youthful hope and innocence in her double role, playing the role of the cousin of an aged professor, who intended to marry her, but ultimately lost to his brother. Her successful performance in Wild Strawberries led to critical acclaim and several other complex roles in the future feature films of Bergman. It followed her appearance in You are my Adventure (1958), directed by the Swedish director and composer Stig Olin, The Magician (1958), and Brink of Life (1958), made by Bergman, apart from his television movie Rabies (1958). Although she did not have much to do as a giggly servant girl in The Magician, in Brink of Life (Nara livet 1958), set in a maternity ward, Andersson provided some light as an unmarried young woman who decides to keep her baby. Brink of Life (Nara livet 1958) is a milestone in the film career of Bibi Andersson, for which she won her first Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival.

In Wild Strawberries
In Wild Strawberries

Between 1959 and 1965, Andersson appeared in several Swedish films which include Den kära liken (1959), a film by actor-director Kenne Fant, The Devil's Eye (1960), directed by Bergman, Mistress (1962), directed by Vilgot Sjöman, and Now About These Women (1964), Bergman's first film in colour. While as the virginal daughter of a country vicar Andersson was the centre of Bergman’s metaphysical comedy The Devil’s Eye, she won the Silver Berlin Bear for the Best Actress award at the Berlin International Film Festival for her performance in Mistress.

With Liv Ullmann in Persona
With Liv Ullmann in Persona

After aptly performing the role of the mistress of a cellist’s harem in his Now About These Women, Bergman offered her a role worthy of her talent, and Andersson played her first leading role for Bergman in Persona (1966). Perhaps it was her most highly acclaimed role, the role of Alma, taking care of Elizabet Vogler, played by Liv Ullmann, a famous actor stricken with the psychosomatic loss of speech, at a remote seaside cottage. While Andersson had to deliver most of the dialogues of the film, her interaction with Liv Ullmann ranks among the greatest acting in Swedish cinema. Although their personal anguish was reflected in their features, gradually they began to understand one another and exchange identities.

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With her performance in Persona, Andersson won the hearts of the commoners and the critics alike and became internationally recognized as a performer capable of expressing great depth and complexity. At the same time, with this film, the female face in close-up became Bergman’s main field of vision, and Andersson was an important part of that vision.

In The Passion of Anna
In The Passion of Anna

In 1969, apart from a psychological thriller Blow Hot, Blow Cold (1969), Bibi Andersson also featured in Bergman’s The Passion of Anna (1969) in which she had the opportunity to use her sexuality when as an unhappily married middle-class woman, she seduces a reclusive man while visiting a remote island. The Passion of Anna was followed by The Touch (1971), Bergman’s first English-language film, in which Andersson again played the role of a married woman with two children, who became involved in an affair with a visiting American archaeologist.

In The Passion of Anna
Bibi Andersson in The Touch

By that time Bibi Andersson has completely evolved as an actor under Bergman from simple, uncomplicated, and shallow to simple, uncomplicated, and deep. At the same time, some of Bergman's greatest films were built on her exceptional acting talent, her self-contained intellect, and her allure like a Nordic goddess. By fully assimilating the mind and reality of her portrayed characters, she absorbed their emotions and thoughts deeply in her psyche and wore their fears, desires, anxieties and hopes on her face, which turned into a finely tuned musical instrument to express the subtlest of emotions. While her expressive blue eyes and languid sensuality reminded the silent film icons like Greta Garbo, with her angelic blonde hair, a chiseled jawline, and a teasing overbite, her face radiated a natural beauty. Like the combination of Federico Fellini and Giulietta Masina, Jean Luc Godard and Anna Karina, Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman, Bergman and Andersson developed a mutually beneficial working relationship that brought out the best in each other. Before Liv Ullman superseded Bibi Andersson as Bergman's first choice leading lady, Bibi herself had superseded Ingrid Thulin, just as Thulin had superseded Harriet Andersson who played the lead role in Bergman’s Summer with Monika. Except for a small role in one episode of Scenes From a Marriage (1973), The Touch was to be the last time she worked with Bergman on a film. However, they reunited later in the theatre when he directed her in the productions of the Royal Dramatic theatre.

With Liv Ullmann in Scenes from a Marriage
With Liv Ullmann in Scenes from a Marriage

However, apart from the Swedish films, Andersson also starred in several American movies. To mention a few in the list, she played the role of a woman captured by the Apache people in the patchy western Duel at Diablo (1966), a Russian spy during the cold war in The Kremlin Letter (1970), a sympathetic psychiatrist in I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977), the long-suffering wife of Steve McQueen in An Enemy of the People (1978), and a French hooker in The Concorde - Airport ’79 (1979).

While continuing her work on stage and screen in Sweden, and winning the last of her four Guldbagge awards, the Swedish equivalent to Baftas, for her role as the cruel abbess in Arn: The Knight Templar (2007), Bibi Andersson also became involved in peace and feminist issues in the last few years of her life. During the civil war in Yugoslavia that finally led to the breakup of the Yugoslav state, Bibi Andersson worked with several initiatives to bring theater and other forms of culture to the war-battered region.

With Liv Ullmann in Scenes from a Marriage

Although she was romantically linked to Bergman in the 1950s, she married film director Kjell Grede in 1960, with whom she has a daughter. After their divorce in 1973, she married politician and writer Per Ahlmark in 1979 and divorced him in 1981. Andersson is survived by her third husband, Chilean doctor Gabriel Mora Baeza, whom she married in 2004.

In 2009 Bibi Andersson suffered a massive stroke, and according to an article published in 2010, she had since been hospitalized, unable to speak. She passed away on the 14th of April 2019.

Julie Andrews Claudia Cardinale
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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