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Snow Angels and Windmills: Ivo van Hove (Re)Directs Bergman

Adaptation perseveres as a dominant mode of cultural production, surprising only in its resilience to accommodate and generate hybrid representational forms across media and cultures. Film-to-stage productions are one such hybrid, epitomizing the erosion of formal boundaries among media, with significant implications for adaptation studies. Correspondences between literary and performance text(s) are relevant, but equally significant is performativity, including directorial techniques, acting modalities, design, and medial framing. While musical adaptations of popular films have long been prevalent in commercial theatre, the adaptation of films by auteur directors which are created for the international festival circuit is a relatively recent phenomenon. Part of the pleasure of engaging in adaptations of any variety is their capacity to engender creative acts of comparison and synthesis. If stage versions of art-house films hold appeal for audiences accustomed to foreign-language cinema, spectators will most likely possess at least some familiarity with the reputations and stylistic proclivities of the filmmakers. As Susan Bennett speculated, audience members “may have taken the time to review the subject film” prior to attending the production (167). Similarly, Marvin Carlson observed that many well-known theatre directors develop approaches so individualistic that they became part of the expectations and thus the reception of their works” (107), a phenomenon that also applies to film history. Equally significant is the impulse of contemporary directors and adaptors to contemporize and/or critique the ideological, gender-biased, and/or representational conventions of source materials.  Paratextual factors, such as how these adaptations are marketed and for which venues, also figure prominently. Film-to-stage adaptations, therefore, compel consideration of reception and even if widely dismissed in critical circles, the question of intent.

Ivo van Hove is arguably the most prolific purveyor of film-to-stage adaptation, having created productions based on screenplays by Allen, Bergman, Cassavetes, Pasolini, and Visconti—all of whom had significant training in, or made ongoing contributions to theatre. Working primarily with Toneelgroep Amsterdam (TGA), the repertory company for which he has served as Artistic Director, van Hove has become renowned for incorporating multiple medial networks that challenge the boundaries of representational forms. Bergman’s films have proven to be particularly compelling to van Hove, who staged adaptations of Persona (1966), Cries and Whispers (1972), Scenes from a Marriage (1973),and After the Rehearsal (1984), all of which bear traces of theatrical antecedents, which David Willinger characterized as “a global and constitutive echo that passes between works of cinema and theatrical art” (251). Considered in this way, film-to-stage productions compel the reevaluation of how the history of theatre, film, and adaptation have been narrativized and disciplined. A useful model for such an undertaking is Bolter and Grusin’s concept of remediation, which holds that media history should not be perceived as evolutionary, but rather as a “genealogy of affiliations” where older and newer mediums are inter-dependent (55). Adapting this to the history of theatre, Peter Boenisch pointed out that it always relied on remediating other media in order to achieve its effects, turning into “a new medium whenever new media technologies become dominant,” thus adapting and dispersing “new cognitive strategies, just as it did in ancient Greece” (111).

Allardyce Nicoll, a theatre historian, was among the first scholars in America to treat cinema as a serious artform, outlining what he perceived to be film’s advantages over theatre, including: a “sense of movement” afforded to the spectator given the camera’s range of vision (74); the ability to manipulate time more fluidly through montage (97); a “strange magic” that seduces spectators to accept both objective and subjective points of view (117); and that film is better able to create the illusion of reality (74). Although writing in the mid-1930s, Nicoll did not seem to recognize the seismic shift in American theatre towards social realism and the impact of method acting, nor did he seem to notice the full or partial rejection of mimesis by filmmakers outside of Hollywood. Arguing for a non-hierarchical working relationship between theatre and cinema, André Bazin elaborated on their dissimilarities as a function of space, including architecture, without which, he avowed, “there can be no theatre” (104), adding that the camera’s mobility and ability to capture action from multiple angles afforded cinema a “breadth and reality unattainable on the stage” (91). Focused somewhat narrowly on “filmed theatre,” Bazin did not address the incorporation of moving images within live performance that directors had already been attempting, such as the formal experiments at the Bauhaus, or the agit-prop documentary productions of Erwin Piscator in Germany and the Federal Theatre Project’s Living Newspaper unit in America. Of course, neither Nicoll nor Bazin, could anticipate how widespread such hybridization would become in contemporary performance in the digital age. Since bridging the gaps between theatre and cinema is central to van Hove’s aesthetics, there is an inherent logic in excavating the elements of theatricality in Bergman’s films, thus shedding light on the cross-pollination of representational forms in general, and how this might yield fresh interpretive possibilities of his seminal films. This paper focuses on how these goals were borne out in two of van Hove’s stage adaptations: Cries and Whispers (C&W) and Scenes from a Marriage (SFAM).

Auteurism as Palimpsest

Egil Törnqvist observed that Bergman’s commitment to theatre “meant that for long periods he had been living almost daily with a particular play in heart and mind,” which left “traces in the films” (13). C&W and SFAM were completed within three years of each other, at a time when Bergman was staging productions around Europe. The year prior to C&W’s release, Bergman remounted one of his many productions of August Strindberg’s A Dream Play, and his adaptation of To Damascus, parts I and II premiered at Sweden’s Dramaten Theatre a few months after SFAM was broadcast on Swedish television. SFAM has a varied production history: first as a six-part miniseries; then as an abridged film version released in 1974; and subsequently in 1977 as a stage adaptation by Bergman himself when it played in repertory with his Ibsen and Strindberg productions at the Munich Residenzteater where he served as Artistic Director. (A new English-language adaptation of SFAM aired as a limited series on HBO in late 2021). According to Törnqvist, in these and other works, Bergman eliminated or added scenes, characters, and dialogue in order to “trans-substantiate” the texts to suit his vision (17). When his stage productions were remounted at the Bergman Festival produced by the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in 1991, he was recognized as an exemplar of regietheatre, broadening the auteurist paradigm from cinema to theatre, and paving the way for the kinds of hybrid productions van Hove’s company engineers for the international festival circuit. After his death in 2007, the Bergman Foundation granted permission for stage adaptations of Fanny and Alexander (1982).  One of the first produced by Sweden’s Royal Dramatic Theatre was presented at the Nordic Cool Festival in Washington, D.C. in 2012, after a banner year of stage adaptations of Bergman films in the New York area including: the Atlantic Theatre Company’s Through a Glass Darkly (1961) directed by David Leveaux; Robert Woodruff’s intermedial take on Autumn Sonata (1987) for Yale Repertory; the Broadway revival of A Little Night Music, Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical based on Smiles of a Summer Night (1955); and TGA’s C&W at BAM.

Intermediality and the Subversion of the Binary Gaze

One of Bergman’s most admired and maligned films, C&W anatomizes the suffering and death of Agnes (Harriett Andersson) as she is attended by family servant Anna (Kari Sylwan), and two sisters—the shallow, gregarious Maria (Liv Ullmann) and the repressed, cynical Karin (Ingrid Thulin). The art direction and symbolically coded costumes heighten its allegorical qualities, and a dream/nightmare sequence in which Agnes is “resurrected” bears influence of Strindbergian dramaturgy. As with A Dream Play’s Agnes, who descends from heaven to absorb the conditions of human suffering, C&W’s Agnes embodies the spiritual and emotional disorders of her family. If Strindberg’s characters “split, double, multiply, evaporate, condense, dissolve and merge” as he noted in his influential preface to A Dream Play, Bergman similarly de-stabilized narrative point-of-view via flashbacks emanating from the memories of the four characters, which disrupt the temporal logic of the narrative. For example, a male voice-over introduces the sisters’ memories of cataclysmic events in their unhappy marriages in scenes that are disjointed from the main action; similarly, it is unclear whether Anna dreams or hallucinates Agnes’s resurrection since it flows seamlessly out of the “objective” reality of previous scenes. The latter sequence is also unique in that it is shot from Anna’s point of view, and when she climbs onto Agnes’s bed and strikes the iconic piéta tableau,1 Agnes dies a second time in the arms of the one character who has provided unconditional love and compassion.

TGA’s production of C&W was staged at the Harvey Theatre, BAM’s mid-sized proscenium venue. Jan Versweyveld’s minimalist set and décor re-situated the action from the late nineteenth century to the present, reimagined the interiors of a bourgeois manor house into a make-shift hospice, and provided numerous surfaces for projected imagery. Here, the film’s memorable art direction, with its surfeit of crimson wallpaper and upholstery, was supplanted by shades of blue glowing from video monitors and bouncing off an array of movable partitions, scrims, and plexiglass screens—a design aesthetic that has become a signature of van Hove and Versweyveld’s intermedial collaborations. As with many productions featuring live-feed projections, the over-sized images of the performers afforded a measure of intimacy denied by proscenium architecture. While this matched Sven Nyqvist’s cinematographic portraiture, it is also true that in the film, Agnes’s suffering is objectified by her sisters’—and most penetratingly—the camera’s gaze.  By contrast, a distinctive feature of Tal Yarden’s media design for the first half of the TGA production was that the screened images were captured almost entirely by the actress playing Agnes with a hand-held camera (see Figure 1). When the film does penetrate Agnes’s consciousness, it is indirectly, through diary passages read mostly by other characters, and two flashbacks. Early on, Agnes recalls feelings of alienation from her mother and siblings—including a meta-allegorical scene in which the family views a magic lantern show. In that sequence, however, the camera is aligned with Agnes’s perspective as a young child; whereas her sisters’ flashbacks depict aberrant sexual relations in their adult marriages. Notably, each flashback is bracketed by close-ups of the actresses’ faces processed through a red filter, evincing a Brechtian alienation effect. As Jesse Kalin observed, however, the content within these tableaux “represent the ways in which they have responded to the suffering, humiliation, and abandonment in their lives” (135). It was precisely this tendency by Bergman to fixate on female humiliation and shame that feminist critics found most objectionable, typified by Constance Penley’s indictment of C&W as paradigmatic of “woman as nothing but the projected fears and desires of men, of women as cosmic victims” (208).

Snow Angels and Windmills: Ivo van Hove (Re)Directs Bergman
David Pellegrini , Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 1:  Chris Nietvelt as Agnes documents her suffering in the Toneelgroep Amsterdam production Cries and Whispers, BAM Next Wave Festival, 2011. Photo: Richard Termine. Courtesy BAM Hamm Archives.

Thomas Leitch observed that the “auteur status of filmmakers depends at least as much on their temperament and working habits…and their success at turning themselves into brand names as on their artistic aspirations or any textual features of their films” (2007: 237). Surveying hundreds of articles, Jono Van Belle demonstrated how Bergman’s auteur status resulted partly from the reception of his films by critics and journalists, who tended to sensationalize his private life and depict him as an “expert” on women (10). Bergman reinforced these perceptions through autobiographies, interviews, and especially his casting choices. Despite garnering five Academy Award nominations, C&W premiered when feminist critics were interrogating the objectification of women in film; hence, Penley’s alignment of Bergman with “all the male directors, writers and artists” responsible for the “emotional, physical, and intellectual crippling of women and then labeled as Art this human sacrifice for the expiation of their sins” (207).

If such critiques can be understood as a corrective to a medium, an industry, and the valorization of male-centric auteurism, it is viable in hindsight to reassess the hyperbole, omissions, and mis-readings marking both negative and affirmative criticism. In fact, Bergman has been the object of most every critical theory before and since his death, and just as these discourses evolve or fall in and out of favor, so too has his legacy. While Penley’s typology of female stereotypes as victim, temptress, evil incarnate, and earth mother are recognizable enough in C&W’s four female characters, her deprecation of Anna’s cathexis to Agnes as nothing more than transference to Anna’s deceased daughter obfuscates other interpretive possibilities in regard to sexuality. Robin Wood, who produced one of the earliest comprehensive studies of Bergman, is an interesting case in point. After revealing that he was gay in a seminal work of queer film criticism, Wood admitted that his failure to address Bergman’s subversion of heteronormativity was attributable to his own fear of coming out as gay.2 Amending earlier writings, Wood reassessed Persona as the first of Bergman’s films to “treat bisexuality seriously, as a potentially valid human experience,” while Hour of the Wolf (1968)“unmistakably attributes its male protagonist’s torments to the repression of homosexuality” (248). Still, while he curiously described the sisterly embrace of Karin and Maria as “passionate lesbian contact,” Wood sidestepped the possibility of a same-sex relationship between Agnes and Anna even though this is obvious to many viewers. Bergman teased this possibility when he noted that for Agnes, “love has been a confined secret, never revealed,” while his description of their “silent, never expressed friendship” echoes the “love that dare not speak its name” bromide (60-61).

In a more expansive queer assessment, Daniel Humphrey explored how Bergman’s “brutal vision of patriarchal heteronormativity, and of how forms of homosexuality have both sustained and destabilized it” contributed to the development of a “queer consciousness” that challenged essentialist paradigms of gender and sexual identity (7). Reading mid-career films in which homosexual characters highlight the dysfunctionality of heterosexual relationships, Humphrey ascribed a “residual” queerness to Bergman within the broad contexts of communist paranoia during the Cold War, his status as a European art-house filmmaker, his Swedish nationality, a ”brooding sensibility,” and the way that transgressive sexualities in his films were sensationalized in the “discursive surround” of reviews, advertising campaigns, and promotional materials (100-102). However, Humphrey’s bias towards Bergman’s earlier films led him to conclude that Bergman’s late-career films offer “no respite” for those critical of his objectification of women, and cycling back to second-wave feminist critics a half-century earlier, dismissed C&W as “ever risible” (5).


It is interesting that as an openly gay director van Hove did not imagine a more-than-platonic relationship for Agnes and Anna; instead, befitting his more clinical delineation of death, Anna was portrayed more as a nurturant and professional caregiver. Although he maintains that homosexuality is but one facet of his creative impulses, he has adapted and staged many gay-themed works, many of which strike a critical posture towards the ways in which gender and sexuality had previously been represented, both performatively and as embedded in screenplays and plays. Interestingly, in lieu of a screenplay, Bergan composed a letter to the C&W actors in which he described the characters, the barest outline of plot, and passages of dialogue which made it to the screen more or less verbatim. This was uncharacteristic for Bergman, who published many of his scripts in order to legitimate his literary credentials and, consequently, the stature of screenplays in general.  So, although Bergman professed to abhor improvisation, much of what appears in C&W would have been created in collaboration with Nyqvist and the performers during shooting. Conversely, van Hove maintains that he adapts the screenplays and not the films; yet he must have studied it since he transposed whole sequences not described in Bergman’s letter, albeit with radical departures. Chief among van Hove’s interpretive expansions was the barest hint in the film that Agnes is an artist.

Whereas the sisters refer to her sketching and there is a brief glimpse of a still-life she has painted, onstage Agnes was transformed into a video artist who documents her experience of dying moment by moment. Remarkably, over the course of the performance, it became increasingly more apparent that she was actually a prolific multi-disciplinary artist, and immediately prior to dying, a performance artist as well. Apart from justifying the extensive intermedial quotient, this also permitted Versweyveld to transgress the confines of the domestic setting as the stage became, in turns, a hospice, a ritual space, Agnes’s live-work studio, an art gallery, and finally something resembling a cinema. As the projected imagery came to reveal Agnes’s processes as an artistic creator, a higher degree of agency was granted to the character only partially realized in the film’s coda. In this way, van Hove and his designers demonstrated the potential of intermedial performance to penetrate a character’s subjective point of view and states of consciousness, create a sense of movement for spectators, and manipulate spatiotemporal dynamics that defied theatre’s limitations as posited by Nicoll and Bazin. 

The subversion of the phallocentric gaze of the camera and, with it, Bergman’s objectification of the female body, however, was only partially realized since the projections were viewed through the proscenium frame as orchestrated by van Hove and Yarden. However, van Hove was even more explicit than Bergman in depicting the visceral conditions experienced by a woman losing control of her bodily functions. For example, when she first came into view, Agnes was seen onstage (and amplified on the screens) lying in a pool of her own vomit, after which she used a commode in full view of the audience. If such images were consistent with van Hove’s (and Bergman’s) emphasis on the visceral conditions of suffering and disease, it was in the moments prior to Agnes’s death, however, that he obliterated any concern for fidelity by instantiating a critical intervention in Bergman’s victimizing portrait of a woman dying of cancer. Transgressing the clinical approach pervading the production up to this point, Chris Nietvelt as Agnes covered the width of the stage apron with a tarp, doused it and herself with blue paint and the contents of her bedpan, and rolled around the canvas in what Alexis Soloski described as a “perverse homage” to Yves Klein’s “Living Brushes” (Soloski) (see Figure 2).3  Underscored by deafening rock music, this harrowing sequence coalesced a number of themes and leitmotifs of the production. As the first indication that Agnes was a conceptual artist and not merely a documentarian, it provided a bridge to the projected imagery after Agnes’s death in which it became evident that she experimented with photography, animation, collage, and digital art. Further, the spontaneity of Nietvelt’s creation veered towards performance art, and to the extent that she improvised this artistic creation, both authorial and directorial control were wrested from van Hove and his male collaborators, even if fleetingly. Finally, it fulfilled the horizon of expectations for a van Hove production; specifically, the installation of an escape valve out of the authorial authority of his source material, and his alignment with both the avant-gardist emphasis on shock and the Dionysian impulses that spawned western theatre. 

Snow Angels and Windmills: Ivo van Hove (Re)Directs Bergman
David Pellegrini , Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 2: Agnes’s “performance art” with blue paint. Photo: Richard Termine. Courtesy BAM Hamm Archives.

Despite such interpretive liberties, van Hove adhered to and re-remediated the theatrical modalities that Bergman adopted cinematically, even as he playfully alluded to other influential directors that have become mainstays on the international festival circuit. For example, Brechtian alienation devices deployed by Bergman, such as the use of filters, tableaux, and the actresses’ ritualized gestural patterns were echoed in van Hove’s staging of near-balletic encounters between the married couples reminiscent of Pina Bausch’s dance theatre. Similarly, the interpolation of an Indonesian shadow play in lieu of the film’s magic lantern sequence called to mind the intercultural performance techniques of French director Ariane Mnouchkine. Bergman’s ritualization of even the most quotidian events in C&W also reverberated in a twelve-minute dumbshow in which van Hove’s actors and stagehands wrapped Agnes’s body, packed away her canvases and supplies, wheeled off the hospital equipment, and finally the body itself. Taking another cue from Bergman who double-cast Ullman as Maria and her mother, the actors playing Karin and Maria’s husbands transformed into the characters of the doctor and a pastor immediately after playing their marital scenes and in full view of the audience. Here also, van Hove disaggregated narrative time, since those encounters were not presented as flashbacks as in the film, but were played out in performance time during which a resurrected Agnes was seen creating works behind the plexiglass screens. In ways cannily similar to Bergman (and Strindberg before him), van Hove disrupted the cause-effect logic of narrative time as images of Agnes’s artistic creations were projected onto the screens continuously as a kind of artist’s retrospective for the remainder of the production. As Sokolski observed, the interlacing of these scenes positioned them “perhaps in the past, perhaps in the future ” (Soloski), an internal adaptive logic that came to fruition in the production’s final moments.

Immersive Adaptation as Relational Art

The juxtaposition of the spatiotemporal and scopic conditions of theatre and cinema was even more pronounced in van Hove’s adaptation of SFAM. Originally telecast as a six-part miniseries, SFAM depicts the disintegration of couple’s marriage over ten years. Filmed almost entirely in interiors, the performances of Liv Ullman as Marianne and Erland Josephson as Johan were captured with extraordinary intimacy by Nyqvist. Its semi-autobiographical mystique was enhanced by Bergman’s relationship with Ullmann and his many collaborations with Josephson, often presumed to represent his alter-ego in several films. Rather that adopting an intermedial approach, however, van Hove explored how elemental techniques of theatre-making might shed light on, and oftentimes parody, Bergman’s rather jaundiced representation of marriage. By triple-casting the principles and promenading spectators through multiple spaces, van Hove re-framed one of Bergman’s most intimate works as an immersive, prismatic experience. This exemplified Nicolas Bourriaud’s concept of relational aesthetics, which refers to ways of creating that privilege human interactions within social contexts over independent, private, symbolic spaces. Though developed as a critical response to performance and installation art, Bourriaud’s paradigm is particularly relevant insofar as the production transformed the formalism of the miniseries into a game structure played by the performers and spectators alike conforming to its rules. 

For the production’s first half, the NYTW audience was separated into three partitioned spaces, each with approximately one hundred seats surrounding small playing areas. The first three scenes corresponded to the first three episodes of the miniseries, but abridged and synced to approximately thirty minutes apiece by Emily Mann, a playwright best-known for her docudramas. As would become evident to each group as they circulated to an adjoining space at the conclusion of the first scene, Johan and Marianne were played by three pairs of actors, all of different ages. Meanwhile, Versweyveld’s design cited the scopic conditions from historical epochs in western performance. For example, re-situating audience members several times reimagined pageant drama staging, in which spectators moved to different stations throughout medieval towns. Bergman himself worked extensively within the station-drama tradition, having staged the proto-Expressionist plays of Strindberg, and adopting their dramaturgical conventions in several early films. Versweyveld found inspiration even further back by inverting the periaktoi—the three-sided scene-changing device in Hellenistic amphitheatres conjectured by Vitruvius—only here activated by a rotating audience rather than pivots in the skene. Moving from space to space also offered spectators multiple vantage points of the action, thus defying the static conditions of theatrical spectatorship pointed out by Bazin.

Van Hove also unsettled the schematics of episodic television since each audience group experienced the first three scenes alternately in chronological order, starting in the middle, or going backwards from the third to first. Other techniques indicated that what was being presented was not a polished performance, but rather a rehearsal, including: the performers’ informal interactions with stagehands and other actors in a partially visible gangway at the vortex of the three spaces during and in-between scenes; fluorescent lighting common to rehearsal halls; make-shift hand-props substituting for real objects; and that each set of actors would run their scene consecutively and in triplicate. In contradistinction to the modernist emphasis on form where an artwork is “closed in itself by the intervention of a style and a signature,” for Bourriaud, relational art demonstrates that form exists in the encounter and in the dynamic relationship engendered by an “artistic proposition with other formations, artistic or otherwise” (21). As the game-like structure unfolded in the first half, spectators would not be aware that they or other audience members experienced the action in or out of sequence until being re-situated, thus compelling a critical evaluation of this interpretive choice and its implications for this particular representation of a disintegrating marriage. When activated, such cognitive processes are consonant with Bourriaud’s proposition that in relational art, “artistic practice thus resides in the invention of relations between consciousnesses” (22).

If van Hove’s approach deconstructed the stark naturalism associated with the miniseries and film versions, Bergman himself embedded alienating effects to disrupt viewers’ emotional engagement with the characters. For example, one critic located an aura of artifice pervading the “faux cinema-verité style,” with the marriage seemingly portrayed as a “giant lab experiment run by Bergman” (Schneider). In a meta-cinematic turn similar to the magic lantern sequence in C&W, Johan, a research psychologist, conducts an experiment in visual perception in one of the early episodes. As documented by Frederick and Lise-Lone Marker, deviations from orthodox realism were even more pronounced in Bergman’s Munich production, in which he eliminated all but one of the characters other than Johan and Marianne, created a new German translation with the actors, and eliminated costume changes that would indicate the passage of time (40). Moreover, by having the actors deliver expository and interpretive commentary before and after each scene, a “rhythmic oscillation between emotional engagement and detachment” became a predominant performative mode (Marker 39). Van Hove more radically de-stabilized viewers’ cathexis to the characters by casting three sets of actors who, due to variations in age and their unique vocal and physical traits, made widely divergent expressive choices. Interestingly, the actress playing the middle-aged Marianne was black, although this did not appear to have any significance other than the prevalence of mixed-race marriages in American society, and the convention of color-blind casting (problematic though this practice has proven to be). On another level, however, van Hove’s casting choices might spark additional questions for spectators, specifically: why not cast same-sex or non-binary performers to play one or more of the couples? Such an inquiry would not be unusual given that the production opened a year before gay marriage became legal in the United States—a time when it was very much a part of the national discourse. Robin Wood posed a similar question decades earlier in his queer reassessment of Bergman when he asked: “Is it possible to imagine a version of Persona in which the two leading characters are men, an actor and a male nurse?” Van Hove, perhaps, concurred with Wood’s response to his own question: “only with extreme difficulty, and it would be a different film” (254). Instead, as with C&W, van Hove chose not to explore the possibility of queer identities for the characters, but rather “queered” the adaptation by highlighting the biases implicit in heteronormative institutions such as family and marriage, and interrogating the acting modalities and framing devices by which Bergman represented them in the film. 

Brechtian alienation techniques used by both Bergman and van Hove are compatible with a major tenet of Bolter and Grusin’s concept of remediation, which is characterized by two alternate, but interconnected strategies: hypermediacy, which aims to remind the viewer of the medium; and transparent immediacy, which has the opposite goal of making the viewer forget the medium (31-32). Film-to-stage adaptations in particular reveal this interconnectedness, since a theatrical adaptation of even the most highly naturalistic film will likely yield a high quotient of hypermediacy. In adapting SFAM for the stage, Bergman, knowingly or not, anticipated a major paradigm of artistic representation in the digital age, and one that is central to van Hove’s aesthetics. Meanwhile, the production’s second half aligned even more closely with Bourriaud’s relational paradigm, as spectators discovered the rules of the game had changed once again.

Reconstituted as a whole, the audience entered a reconfigured playing space with no partitions, and took seats on rows no more than two or three deep around a large, semi-circular playing area. This arena-like arrangement sustained the close proximity between spectators and performers and provided kind of depth perspective instantiated by the staging. After entering, all three couples inhabited the stage and performed the dialogue from the fourth episode chorally, alternating lines—sometimes in unison and along gender lines—and opposite ever-changing partners (see Figure 3). This further de-stabilized audience identification with the characters (and the actor-character dyads from the first half), fracturing the dialogue beyond any sense of naturalism, albeit not without humorous results. The performers then reunited with their original scene partners and played the dialogue simultaneously while rotating around the stage as if on a merry-go-round. For any one spectator, regardless of where seated, one couple would be foregrounded with the other couples visible in the background, which also amplified the varying power dynamics among the pairs.

Snow Angels and Windmills: Ivo van Hove (Re)Directs Bergman
David Pellegrini , Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 3: Three couples of varying ages playing Marianne and Johan converge in the second part of the NYTW production of Scenes from a Marriage. Photo: Jan Versveyweld.

The staging of the sexual encounter from the fifth episode was a playful variation of Nyqvist’s modest photography, as the performers, offstage, simulated the sounds of intercourse over microphones, leaving audience members to stare at an empty stage (and each other). This moment of levity was soon dispelled upon their re-entry, however, when unresolved issues between the couples resulted in a physical brawl. As the ostensible climax, the fight scene between Ullman and Josephson electrified the film’s relatively somber tones, and the comic-ironic disposition of van Hove’s production as well. Whereas the confrontation lasted no more than a minute onscreen, van Hove’s performers engaged in at least five minutes of ever-escalating violence, which among other effects, highlighted their differences in age. If the youngest actors were the most athletic and the oldest might provoke genuine fear for their safety, the confrontation between the middle-aged couple was the most brutal of all—and incidentally the one moment where the casting of a black female performer might spark extra-textual resonance. Even more significant, this instance of performative excess, as with Agnes’s performance art sequence in C&W, represented a variation of the Dionysian impulse at the center of many of van Hove’s productions; specifically sequences that exceed the representational logic of theatrical space and time, and explode the conventions of genre and adaptation to anarchic levels. These moments also best illustrate Bourriaud’s description of relational artists, for whom “inter-subjectivity and interaction” is both a ‘point of departure and an outcome’ for their creations (44). Yet, if a defining feature of auteurism is the imprimatur of a signature style—and there should be no doubt at this point in van Hove’s career that he is heir to this tradition—than anticipation of these narrative disturbances for audience members in-the-know would seem to run counter to the relational paradigm. Nevertheless, by layering more evocative textures in which he interpolated an idiosyncratic directorial approach to the material—qualities that exceeded mere interpretation—van Hove simultaneously launched an auto-critique of his own unique processes of adaptation. This relationality, filtered through performance and instantiated through multiple modes of mediation, was particularly evident in the closing moments of both productions.

Adaptation as Collaboration

In van Hove’s staging of the sixth episode of SFAM, the younger and middle-aged couples were absent from the stage, leaving the most mature performers to play the final scene. Positioned on a mattress low to the ground, the actors were lit by a single shaft of light from one corner of the arena, which rendered their profiles alternately in light or shadow eerily reminiscent of Nyqvist’s photographic dissolves in Persona and C&W (see Figure 4).Having Bergman’s resolution (if not reconciliation) played by these performers was justifiable enough given the adage that with age comes wisdom; and in fact, the performances were rendered more naturalistically than anything that had come previously. Emotionally engaging as this shift in acting modality was, it also shifted emphasis from character to characterization, thus the apotheosis of the production’s conceptual logic from the start. As a critical mechanism, moreover, it extended to how the production represented marriage as a social institution. With the images of the younger performers burnished in their minds, spectators might contemplate whether the triple-casting was meant to indicate universality or the experience of one particular couple, and whether the characters’ decisions (and the performers’ reactions) were manifestations of social constructs associated with generational differences. Above all, spectators might consider precisely what was the production’s (and van Hove’s) posture towards marriage given such radical adaptive strategies and oftentimes parodic representation of an institution which at the time of the NYTW production was restricted to heterosexuals. The insertion of such a startlingly different coda from the film may not have resolved all of these questions, but did offer on view van Hove’s subjective engagement with the material in a manner that managed to crystallize the production concept.

In the film’s final moments, the couple retires to bed in an apparent state of platonic contentment. In van Hove’s coda, by contrast, Johan did not fall asleep, but arose from the bed, put a record on a nearby player, and danced ecstatically around the stage as the single shaft of light slowly faded. The song, Noel Harrison’s much-covered “The Windmills of Your Mind,” with its quixotic allusions, palindromic structure, and images of “a circle in a spiral, a wheel within a wheel, never ending nor beginning, on an ever-spinning reel” on the revolving turntable, aptly summed up the cyclical dramaturgical alterations and the unspooling—or remediation—of the filmic material back to its theatrical foundations. A similar intra-adaptive metaphor inflected the coda of C&W. In the film’s final sequence, Agnes returns in a flashback in which she and her sisters run through pastoral grounds and sit on a swing rocked by Anna, their angelic-white costumes billowing in the breeze. The flashback begins with Anna reading the description of this memory from Agnes’s diary, but as the scene plays out, Andersson’s voice takes over from Sylwan’s, thus providing the character (and actress) a fleeting, but significant instance of narrative control. In van Hove’s coda, by contrast, Agnes, who never entirely disappeared, neither physically nor as a spectral presence through her artworks, stood in front of a projection screen spanning the stage and addressed the audience directly. Rather than re-creating the flashback in which Agnes described the fulfillment she felt by the presence of her sisters’ bodies and “the warmth of their hands,” the projected image displayed another of her digital artworks, which Agnes/Nietvelt curated with lines from the screenplay and newly scripted ones. The creation, an animated snow angel that metastasized exponentially across the screen, digitized the predominant image Nietvelt formed on the canvas in blue paint prior to Agnes’s death (see Figure 5). Pondering the insularity of her art, and whether she truly engaged with the realities of others who, perhaps like her sisters, experience their own kinds of suffering, she speculates that her creations were borne out of a “desperate protest against death.”

Snow Angels and Windmills: Ivo van Hove (Re)Directs Bergman
David Pellegrini , Literature Film Quarterly
Figure 5: Agnes “curates” her digital artwork in the coda of Cries and Whispers, Photo: Richard Termine. Courtesy BAM Hamm Archives.

Leitch has suggested that an adaptation’s source material may not “supply so much an armature or outline as a provocation, a collaborator with which the adaptation wrestles, even if it’s absent and apparently passive” (2020: 27). Van Hove has admitted that he is more comfortable adapting and interpreting the works of deceased playwrights and filmmakers—a wise disposition, perhaps, given his deconstructive sensibilities. A major strand of Bergman scholarship, meanwhile, is devoted to tracing the influence of Strindberg’s subjective dramas and the legacy of modernist stage directors before him who innovated performance modalities in order to transpose these challenging, proto-expressionist texts to the stage.4 Touching is a leitmotif and primary mode of communication in Bergman’s C&W and also in the final moments of SFAM, revealing moments of empathy and intimacy, masking alienation and anxiety. If van Hove was unable or unwilling to fully transpose the visceral images of touch due to his more clinical representation of death and carnivalesque take on marriage, he found its equivalent in the remedial and relational processes of adaptation and in dialogue with Bergman’s vision and artistic legacy. Moreover, if one perceives Agnes and the elder Johan in SFAM as van Hove’s surrogates, than images of snow angels and windmills became metaphors for, and an auto-critique of, his perceptions of love-bonds, death, and his own relentless pursuit of artistic creation—images elusive, and as rendered in the final moments of both adaptations, touching. Though not a medium per se, film-to-stage adaptations are evidentiary of the trans-historical “genealogy of affiliations” postulated in remediation theory. Furthermore, given their potential to operate relationally through the transference of intersubjective and comparative cognitive processes circulating among creators, spectators, and scholars as well—they invigorate modes of representational processes and praxes, providing fresh contexts and concepts for adaptation studies and the history of representational mediums. 


1 So iconic that the image appeared on a postage stamp commemorating Swedish cinema in 1981.

2 Wood’s Ingmar Bergman was released in 1969 and covered films through Hour of the Wolf. The much re-printed essay “Responsibilities of a Gay Film Critic” first appeared in 1978. A new edition of Wood’s study was released posthumously and contained four additional essays, including queer affirmations of Persona, Hour of the Wolf, and a positive analysis of Cries and Whispers.

3 Klein became renowned in the late 1950s for “living art” happenings in which models rolled around on canvases covered in a shade of blue paint—his signature color. Klein believed that he found the solution to distance in painting through the convergence of subject, artist, and instrument in the act of creation.

4 For example, see: Frederick J and Lise-Lone Marker, A History of Scandinavian Theatre. New York: Cambridge UP, 1966; Birgitta Steene, Ingmar Bergman. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1968; and most especially, Törnqvist’s Between Stage and Screen (1995).

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