When Ingmar Bergman turned 62, in 1980, his children gathered on Fårö, the remote Baltic island he called home, to perform a play they had written about God and the Devil betting on who would win his soul. His nine offspring (by six women) took on assorted roles, playing their mothers, Bergman himself at various ages, God, the Devil and Death. Rounding out the cast of characters were God’s angels and Bergman’s mistresses, portrayed by his brood’s friends and girlfriends. Death walked around in a black cloak and didn’t say much, while the others read poems they had written. But the question of where Bergman would spend eternity was never settled; instead, the troupe erupted into a dazzling song-and-dance number, making for a decidedly un-Bergman-like finale. “My father loved it,” says his youngest daughter, Linn Ullmann, now 43, recalling the spectacle in the garden at Dämba, an old limestone farmhouse Bergman owned on Fårö. “In fact, we had to do an encore the next day so he could film the whole thing with his handheld camera.”
For Bergman, of course, Fårö provided more than the setting for his home movies. It was his haven, his creative wellspring and a central character in a number of his films. Here he wrote his scripts, filmed several of his groundbreaking works and screened movies twice a day in a converted barn. Unforgiving and elemental, with its rocky beaches and weather-beaten forests of gnarled pine, Fårö epitomized Bergman’s unsparing and unsettled internal world. There’s a sensuality in its hardness that reveals itself only if you look closely: Fårö does its best not to charm you.Click here to see our exclusive video shot on the island.
When Bergman saw it for the first time, in 1960, while scouting locations, he thought, “This is your landscape, Bergman,” as he recalls in his autobiography. Six years later, after returning to make Persona with Liv Ullmann, he built Hammars, a house on the edge of the sea near the spot where they’d shot the film and fallen in love. From that moment, the windswept island became the stage on which Bergman’s artistic and domestic lives intertwined.
Bergman died on Fårö in 2007 and in his will, written in the Nineties, instructed his heirs to strike the set—to sell off his houses, his cinema and their contents to the highest bidder. “About this I want no emotional hullabaloo,” wrote the director of some of the most psychologically intimate, emotionally harrowing movies ever made. Before the sale, the family agreed to allow his private rooms and favorite vistas to be photographed for publication for the first time, exclusively in W, and several of those closest to him offered to speak about Bergman’s secluded life.