When asked how Ingmar Bergman (Fanny and Alexander, The Virgin Spring, Autumn Sonata) has inspired him as an artist, Hagai Levi replies, “I guess the main word would be honesty. Or, as he put it, brutal honesty. That was, to me, the most important thing in everything he did.” Hagai’s latest series for HBO, Scenes from a Marriage, is the only adaptation of an original Bergman work. Bergman’s films have received the Foreign Language Film Oscar three times.
“In so many television series or films, it’s about people deceiving. People are lying and people are hiding things from the other. This is very, very elemental in every show. Usually, in what I do, people are telling the truth—at least what they think is the truth. It’s not about lying. It’s not about deceiving or hiding. It’s about what happens when you say the truth. And that’s more interesting to me.”
Below, Hagai shares the four Bergman films that have affected him as an artist—plus he includes Bergman's book Laterna Magica from 1987 as another immensely inspiring work to add to the list.
"At times, we should be reminded that Bergman was also a brilliant novelist," Hagai explains. "His memoirs, always including a fair amount of imagination, are very powerful literary pieces. Laterna Magica is, with no doubt, the greatest one."
This is one of my top 10 favorite films. I’ve only watched it twice, but I remember it so brightly; its vivid colors, my raging at the stepfather, the mourning cries of the widow, the Christmas dance, the magic lantern—a simply perfect cinematic magic.
Watching this [miniseries] as a teenager had such a staggering impact on me that it’s hard for me to imagine what my career would have looked like without it; almost all my works were influenced by it. A piece of “brutal honesty,” in Bergman’s words.
Bergman made this small television movie right after announcing he wouldn’t be directing any more movies. It consists of the same naked minimalism, same sharpness, same pain as in Scenes from a Marriage. It was also, similarly, shot in real time, at a single location, with one man and one woman—all the elements that make me feel so close to him.
I first came across this film through its original script, which was published in some anthology in Hebrew. The first lines I read, “I believe that now, at the age of 76, I’m too old to lie to myself, but I’m not completely sure that’s the truth,” hypnotized me. The film itself was a bonus.