Postcard from Fårö, Sweden

by Carmen Leigh Keates


Scandinavia is a great place to be dead – the graveyards are sensational. Nowhere else have I seen such pristine topiary, such polished marble, such dainty and lush propagated mosses. This is especially so on the Swedish island of Gotland, where an explosion of ‘kyrka’ building in the middle ages has resulted in the 92 parish churches that are still standing today.

On the northern tip of Gotland, across a very narrow waterway, is the small and flat island of Fårö and although the graveyard here is not quite as flash, it is where Ingmar Bergman, famed Swedish film director, is buried.

view from Ingmar Bergman's grave

The view from Ingmar Bergman’s grave in the cemetery of Fårö Kyrka.

Bergman lived the last forty years of his life on the island, eventually in what I think is very well-balanced seclusion; he had ample time alone, but he also built a 12-seat cinema so he could have friends over. We even know his exact daily routine because he was very open about it. He was included in a 2013 Guardian article about the habits of several famous artistic figures:

He followed the same schedule for decades: up at 8am, writing from 9am until noon, then an austere meal…After lunch, Bergman worked from 1pm to 3pm, then slept for an hour. In the late afternoon he went for a walk or took the ferry to a neighbouring island to pick up the newspapers and the mail. In the evening he read, saw friends, screened a movie, or watched TV…"I never use drugs or alcohol," Bergman said. "The most I drink is a glass of wine and that makes me incredibly happy."

Not only did Bergman write on Fårö, but he filmed a handful of his most famous works there, including The Passion of Anna (1969), Shame (1968), and Persona (1966), the last of which had its 50th anniversary recently, a milestone for which I was lucky enough to be at the annual Bergman Week festival.

Watching film i Bergmancenter cinema

Watching Persona in the Bergmancenter cinema on  Fårö

Beach where Persona filmed

The beach at Langhammars, Fårö, where scenes from Persona were shot.

My trip to Gotland and Fårö last year was actually a return visit – I’d first gone there in 2013 when researching Tarkovsky for my PhD. Back then, I remember being tangibly annoyed with myself for not yet being properly familiar with Bergman. But as I rode my bike away from the Bergmancenter, a museum about a recluse, I knew that the time would come when he would be a larger figure in my mind. And I knew I’d be back.

inside Faro kirk

Inside Fårö Kyrka for the inauguration of the annual Bergman Veckan, 2016.

Fårö is a charming place. I absolutely understand why Bergman would choose to live there.   If I had more Swedish, and were confident I could fit in with the locals, I would live there too. That second caveat may sound slightly catty to some, but it is widely known that the Fårö locals have tended to be an insulated bunch and that they actively thwarted outsiders’ efforts to invade their island and the privacy of their antisocial anti-ambassador.

Back in Brisbane, our Gallery of Modern Art has just published a program of free Bergman screenings during March. One screening I will be attending (although it is also on YouTube, for those of you not in town) is Trespassing Bergman, a documentary based around a long interview with Bergman in his house on Fårö. In it you will hear Bergman describe some of his personified and persistent superstitions he lived with on a daily basis. I love this because it goes to show, even on a remote island in the Baltic Sea, you cannot escape your demons.

Bergman's grave

Bergman’s grave.