Light Keeps Me Company
dir. Carl-Gustav Nykvist
Opens Fri Dec 1 at the Grand Illusion.

THERE IS A SHOT in the film Wild Strawberries that will forever be etched in my senses. It is one of the more prosaic shots of the film, dramatically mute and unimportant. The shot is of Professor Borg's lovely old car sweeping along a lakeside road, the brilliant Scandinavian sun raking in and shimmering across the water, its crystalline fragments broken up by a copse of pine. What strikes me about the shot is its holiness: the quality of light captured by the frame; the sense of nature's majesty; the implied reverie of man in the face of God. It's a lot of poetry for a throwaway shot.

Poetry was what cinematographer Sven Nykvist excelled at. A towering figure of the modern cinema, perhaps best known for his extraordinary 30-year collaboration with Ingmar Bergman, Nykvist arguably qualifies as the world's greatest living cinematographer, even though aphasia, a brain disorder, halted his career last year at the ripe age of 77. Certainly, his supreme mastery of natural light has never been equaled.

Light Keeps Me Company is a reverent, straightforward documentary on Nykvist directed by his son, Carl-Gustav. Though unsurprising in construction, Light performs wonderfully as a biography of Sven. The requisite admirers and collaborators all put in appearances--Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman, Vittorio Storaro-- and the film is liberally peppered with clips from Nykvist's 51-film canon. More interestingly, the film describes the non-professional life of the great artist with the tender conviction of family, using a huge stockpile of photos and home movies to illustrate the private quotient of Nykvist's life--which included a failed marriage, the suicide of a son, and a host of other minor dramas.

If Light is simple in construction, however, it is merely because its subject demands it. Nykvist, with Bergman, definitively made cinematic history. The tremendous archive of images they collectively bequeath to humanity is almost too stunning to do more than simply revere: the montage that begins Persona, the dream in Wild Strawberries, the rocky coast of The Seventh Seal, the sun-dappled forests of The Virgin Spring.... I could literally go on forever.