Films should be fantasies not pornography, says Ingmar Bergman’s muse Liv Ullmann upon release of her 'Miss Julie'

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 September, 2015, 10:24pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 September, 2015, 10:43pm

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Sex scenes in some of today’s films are so graphic that they are little more than “porno”movies, according to Liv Ullmann.

“It has gone too far,”the award-winning Norwegian star of stage and screen says.

Referring to films such as Fifty Shades of Grey, the explicit adaptation of the bestselling erotic novel, Ullmann said that art’s depiction of sex should leave something to the audience’s imagination.

“You can’t make it as it is in reality," she said. "Then it becomes like a porno film."

"You have to come in with your fantasy. The public are so much part of it. To see [everything] takes away so much," she added.

“I can get a close-up of you in a movie. It would be beautiful. But if I knew all of your thoughts, it would be different. In my imagination, I can hint and see it in your eyes. Maybe I’m wrong, but it’s my sense of reality."

Ullmann, one of cinema’s natural beauties, said that she would never have agreed to appear in nude sex scenes. She is instead admired for her ability to peel off layers of emotion, baring the innermost soul of her complex characters.

Her performances, in dramas from Shakespeare to Ibsen, inspired directors such as Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish film-maker who cast her in the lead role of his psychological drama Persona in 1966.

She become his muse and partner, appearing in Scenes From A Marriage and Shame, among other classics that made her an international star.

One critic wrote: “Muse hardly describes Ullmann’s role as co-creator of some of the most seminal scenes ever committed to film."

Ullmann, now 76, also made her name as a noted director of films and plays, including her acclaimed staging of Tennessee Williams’s A Streetcar Named Desire, starring Cate Blanchett.

Her latest production is a screen adaptation of Miss Julie, August Strindberg’s masterpiece about a doomed love triangle, which she has written and directed.

She cast Oscar-nominee Jessica Chastain as Miss Julie, a nobleman’s daughter, and Colin Farrell, the Irish star, as the handsome valet she pursues in front of his fiancee, a cook, played by another Oscar-nominated actress, Samantha Morton.

Ullmann’s version is more like a play, with its focus on emotions. It is a world away from films that rely on special effects and fast-moving camera work, which Ullmann criticised for leaving little time “for any reactions or quietness”.

Miss Julie is one of Strindberg’s most-performed works today, but it was banned as obscene in 19th century Europe after its story of a struggle for sex and power between people of different classes scandalised audiences.

Ullmann said she believed that female directors had a particular sensitivity in their approach.

In Miss Julie she has shown the lead character’s “vulnerability”- something missed by many male directors.

“All of them made her haughty, they didn’t see her vulnerability,”she said. “It is easier for a woman to see when people are covering their emotions.”

This, she believed, enabled women directors to help male actors to open up.

Asked why so few women succeed as directors, she said that, in an industry where men are the decision-makers, women were not strong enough to stand up to them.

“They are brought up to say, ’Oh, that’s a man and I don’t really dare to say no.’ So we get angry and upset instead.”

Observing that women “have to be careful because men get confused when we show our strength ... and they get at you instead”, she said Bergman was unusual among male film-makers in having a real respect for women directors.

Despite her enduring reverence for Bergman, she revealed that she had learned more about film-making from “bad directors”.

“I’ve worked with a lot of bad directors,” she added.

With an art form that needed “spontaneity”, she criticised directors who over-direct.

“Bad directors talk too much," she said.

Miss Julie was originally set in Sweden, but Ullmann’s version transplants it to Ireland, partly because its British producers wanted an English-language film.

“It would be cheating for me if we did it in Sweden and they spoke English,”she said. “It would have felt strange."

The film was released in British cinemas this weekend. Acknowledging that “probably no one would have come”if she had made it in Swedish, she said that English-speaking audiences were missing out on jewels of foreign cinema because there was an assumption that they did not enjoy subtitled movies.

Yet foreign cinema is all the more crucial in helping us understand one another in an increasingly multicultural world, she said.