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With: Sven Nykvist, Julia Roberts, Woody Allen, Bibi Andersson, Ingmar Bergman, Roman Polanski, Gena Rowlands, Susan Sarandon, Stellan Skarsgard, Liv Ullmann
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Carl-Gustav Nykvist
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: English and Swedish with English subtitles
Running Time: 75
Date: 03/18/2013

Light Keeps Me Company (2001)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Finding Beauty in Shadows

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's difficult enough to thoroughly look at a man's life in two hours,but how can it be done in just 75 minutes? In the case of Light KeepsMe Company, a new documentary about cinematographer Sven Nykvist, yousimply celebrate the man's life, rather than exploring it or analyzingit.

Directed by Nykvist's son Carl-Gustav Nykvist, the film may be a bit too close to the man himself to get any perspective anyway. According to everyone in the film, Sven is an incredibly nice guy and everyone likes him. When he was divorced from his first wife, and when his youngest son committed suicide, it was because Nykvist was always away and working too hard, not because of any personality conflict. Nykvist is still alive, but was forced to retire from filmmaking in 1998 after being diagnosed with aphasia. Nykvist is shown walking, enjoying nature, reading, and talking with friends, while a narrator reads passages from Herman Hesse's Sidhartha, Nykvist's favorite book.

Nykvist began his career with Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, together making 22 movies, according to the Internet Movie Database. As Nykvist's reputation for soft lighting and beautiful, simple shots grew, other directors began to seek his aid: Roman Polanski (The Tenant), Louis Malle (Pretty Baby), Andrei Tarkovsky (The Sacrifice), and Woody Allen (Crimes and Misdemeanors) among them. Actresses in particular cheered about how much Nykvist fussed over them and made them look beautiful. An outtake from Something to Talk About shows no less a starlet than Julia Roberts giving a birthday kiss to the shy cameraman.

Many of the actors and directors who worked with Nykvist, as well as other admiring cinematographers, give testimony, including Woody Allen, Bibi Andersson, Ingmar Bergman, Roman Polanski, Gena Rowlands, Susan Sarandon, Stellan Skarsgard, and Liv Ullmann. Unfortunately, Light Keeps Me Company shorts us on perhaps the most important aspect, clips. How can we learn how great Nykvist is if we can't see any examples? With the participation of such great talent, how hard could it have been to get a few clips? The movie does show some battered old clips of some of Bergman's early works, but that's hardly a good example.

Though the movie is slight, it does pique our interest and makes us want to explore more of Nykvist's work. To start out, you won't have to look very far. The Rafael Film Center, which is premiering the documentary, will also be showing a newly restored and re-subtitled print of Bergman's Persona (1966), arguably his greatest work. Persona features Liv Ullmann as a reclusive actress living on an island and Bibi Andersson as a nurse hired to take care of her. As the two women share this private, shadowy space together, their personalities begin to switch places. In one scene, Andersson describes a sexual encounter between herself, a girlfriend, and two men on a beach, and it's so vivid you might imagine you've seen it played out. Persona is an unforgettable, astonishingly poetic experience, while Light Keeps Me Company sheds just a little light on this brilliant talent.

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