Ingrid Thulin

Striking actress favoured by Ingmar Bergman

Saturday 10 January 2004 01:00

Ingrid Thulin, actress: born Solleftea, Sweden 27 January 1926; married 1952 Claes Sylwanda (marriage dissolved 1955), 1956 Harry Schein (marriage dissolved); died Stockholm 7 January 2004.

Noted particularly for her striking performances in the films of Ingmar Bergman, the blonde and blue-eyed Swedish actress Ingrid Thulin also displayed her fragile, aloof sensuality in many European productions.

Often cited as one of Sweden's finest actresses, alongside Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman, she failed to enjoy the success of her predecessors in English-language films, but won acclaim for her work with Bergman. Her wide mouth and doleful eyes were put to expressive use in his works, in which she invariably suffered with dignity. She also had leading roles in such landmarks of European cinema as Alain Resnais' La Guerre est finie and Luchino Visconti's The Damned.

Winner of the Cannes Film Festival best actress award in 1958 for her performance in Bergman's Wild Strawberries, she starred in eight other Bergman movies, including The Magician, Winter Light and Cries and Whispers. Her performance in the controversial The Silence prompted one American critic to state that the screen had found "a new, gossamer Duse".

A fisherman's daughter, Ingrid Thulin was born in 1926 in the Swedish town of Solleftea and trained as a ballet dancer before switching to dramatic acting. In a 1964 interview she described herself as an introverted child who liked painting and music and who found an escape in the make-believe of theatre. "But," she added, "my real career began when I went to work for Ingmar."

She trained for the stage at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm from 1948 to 1950, and studied pantomime with Etienne Decroux in Paris. While still a student she made her screen début in Dit vindarna bär (Where the Wind Blows, 1948).

After gaining stage experience in Stockholm and other Swedish cities, she joined the Malmo State Theatre, where she became a principal and first worked with Ingmar Bergman. She was to become one of the writer-director's favourite actresses, alongside Bibi Andersson, Harriet Andersson and Liv Ullmann. After several stage productions together, he cast her in his film Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries, 1957), regarded by many as his masterpiece.

Thulin played a typically angst-ridden Bergman heroine, the daughter-in-law of an old man whom she accompanies on a trip to receive an honorary degree on the 50th anniversary of his graduation from Lund University. Thulin has a testy relationship with the old man, who reminds her too much of her estranged husband. Though the film was dominated by the superb central performance of the former great director Victor Sjöström, Thulin demonstrated an intuitive understanding of the complex character Bergman had written for her, and her harrowed intensity contrasted beautifully with the effervescence of the young Bibi Andersson in the same film.

The following year she starred in two Bergman films, Nära Livet (Brink of Life) and Ansiktet (The Face, a.k.a. The Magician). For the former, Thulin shared the best actress award with three co-stars (Bibi Andersson, Eva Dahlbeck and Babro Hiort af Ornäs) at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival. In this bleakly pessimistic tale of three women in a maternity ward, Thulin was a woman who feels her miscarriage is a punishment for her marriage break-up. In Ansiktet, which dealt with a favourite Bergman theme, the duality of the artist, she was the wife of a travelling magician (Max von Sydow) who is subject to relentless questioning when he tries to enter Stockholm.

She and von Sydow, another Bergman favourite, were also in Nattvardsgästerna (Winter Light, 1963), in which Thulin played the devoted mistress of a pastor (Gunnar Björnstrand) who is unable to satisfy his congregation's doubts and fears regarding man's metaphysical state and such horrors as the atom bomb. Finally, Thulin is the only person attending his service.

From 1960 Thulin was a leading actress with the Malmö Municipal Theatre as well as having a prolific film career, though her attempts to conquer the international market were chequered. She made her first American film, Sheldon Reynolds's Foreign Intrigue, in 1956, billed as "Ingrid Tulean". Though she played Robert Mitchum's love interest in the European-shot thriller, the film was a lacklustre television spin-off that made little impact.

A major opportunity came along when she was cast as leading lady to Glenn Ford in MGM's lavish production Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (1962), a sprawling epic based on the novel by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez previously filmed as a silent with Rudolph Valentino. Directed by Vincente Minnelli and up-dated to the Second World War, the tale of a familiy's divided loyalties during the rise of the Nazis was praised more for its stunning location work and André Previn's powerfully charged score than its plodding dramatics. The scenes between Thulin and Ford, as the wife of an imprisoned partisan and the playboy she has an affair with, were shot in such settings as Versailles and the Petit Trianon, but failed to stir the emotions. Critics who complained at Thulin's lack of conviction were unaware that preview audiences had found her thick accent so hard to understand that MGM hastily had her entire part re-voiced by Angela Lansbury.

The following year Thulin had great success with her performance as a lesbian attracted to her own sister (Gunnel Lindblom) in Bergman's Tystnaden (The Silence). The film's explicit eroticism gave censor boards and morality groups cause for concern, with a scene of Thulin masturbating that was extremely shocking for its time. Critics agreed, though, that the actress's portrayal of the anguished intellectual, wasting away with alcohol and tuberculosis, was one of her finest performances.

She also had success as a playing Yves Montand's bourgeois mistress in Alain Resnais' political drama La Guerre est finie (The War is Over, 1966), in which Montand played a former Spanish revolutionary exiled in Paris and reflecting that 25 years of struggle against Franco had achieved nothing.

In 1967 Thulin made a rare appearance on the Broadway stage, starring with George Gaynes in Arnold Sundergaard's play Of Love Remembered, but it ran for only one week. She returned to the Bergman fold for Vargtimmen (Hour of the Wolf, 1968), in which von Sydow was an artist descending into madness, and Riten (The Rite, 1969). In the latter, made for television but quickly released to cinemas, Thulin painted an acutely perceptive portrait of a discontented, alcoholic actress, a member of a theatrical troupe accused of obscenity.

In 1969 she starred with Dirk Bogarde in Visconti's baroque La caduta degli dei (The Damned) as the matriarch of a German family of munitions manufacturers whose decline parallels Hitler's rise. It was one of several films she made in Italy, stating, "There are so few films to do in Sweden."

Her penultimate film for Bergman, Viskingar och rop (Cries and Whispers, 1972), the tale of two sisters who return home to care for a third sister who is riddled with cancer, was one of Bergman's bleakest but most beautifully crafted and powerfully moving, with Thulin (frigid and suicidal) and her co-stars (Harriet Anderson and Liv Ullmann) universally praised for their superb performances. Thulin's last Bergman film was Efter Repetitionen (After the Rehearsal, 1984), in which she was a fading star who has taken to drink. Her last screen role was that of an elderly woman living in a nursing home who embarks on a love affair with a fellow patient in La Casa del Sorriso (House of Smiles, 1990).

Her second husband, the film tycoon Harry Schein, was president of Svensk Film Industry, and under his auspices Thulin directed a short film, Hangivelsen (Devotion, 1965), co-directed, with Erland Josephson and Sven Nykvist, En och En (One and One, 1978) and co-wrote and directed Brusten himmel (Broken Sky, 1982), a study of a teenage girl trying to cope with maturity. Her occasional television appearances included the Ingrid Bergman role in a TV remake of Intermezzo (1961) and the role of Moses's mystical older sister Miriam in Moses - the Lawgiver (1975) starring Burt Lancaster. She also appeared with Lancaster as part of a starry cast in the disaster movie The Cassandra Crossing (1977).

Thulin, described by friends as having a lively sense of humour in contrast to the roles she usually played on screen, wrote an autobiography, Nagon jag kände ("Somebody I Knew") in 1992. She had lived in Rome since the 1960s, but with the onset of illness she returned to Stockholm for medical treatment.

Tom Vallance

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