Ullmann misses Oscar, but wins hearts

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German-Norwegian film To liv (Two lives) starring Norwegian silver screen veteran Liv Ullmann has narrowly missed out on a shot at an Academy Award. The film was one of nine shortlisted for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, but missed out when the nominees were announced on Thursday.

Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann will be returning to the Norwegian stage. PHOTO: Telenor

Norwegian actress Liv Ullmann had a leading role in To Liv, which narrowly missed out on a nomination for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award. PHOTO: Telenor

The film is set in the 1990s after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Ullman plays a Norwegian woman who had a daughter, Katrine, with a German soldier during World War II. Katrine was sent to Germany immediately after the war ended and later became a Stasi spy. Fast forward several years and Katrine is living in Bergen with her Norwegian husband and family, reunited with her mother. Her past as a spy risks exposure when she’s approached to take part in a class action against the Norwegian government over its treatment of half-German children after the war.

It was the first major screen role for Ullmann in almost two decades. Filming brought her home to Norway, after many years living in the US. She celebrated her 75th birthday in Trondheim last month. But while Ullmann may be the country’s biggest international film star, she hasn’t been its most loved icon

Ullman’s movie career has played out internationally, and she has hardly been in any Norwegian films. For a long time Ullmann had a reputation in her homeland as someone who triggered both provincial bitterness and aggression, with a Trøndelag accent that sounded whiney and plaintive, as newspaper Aftenposten noted in a recent portrait of Ullmann on the occasion of her 75th birthday. The paper recounted how journalist Niels Christian Geelmuyden once called her a diva fond of mysterious, 12-hour-long death-bed scenes.

Many of Ullmann’s movies, either as an actress, director or screenplay writer delve into life’s big questions. Her films, wrote Aftenposten, have a “painful and beautiful stubbornness” that are beyond compare, and she deals with essential questions honestly and eloquently.

A prevailing criticism of Ullmann’s work is that her films stretch out in a deliberately lingering manner. On the other hand Aftenposten argued, feelings take time, and should the length of a film be a valid objection to its worth, particularly given Norwegians’ penchant for slow TV and marathon sporting events?

Paradigm shift
In recent decades the Norwegian public has seen a different side of Ullmann through many television talkshow appearances. She has appeared bubbly and strong-willed, fostering something of a reconciliation and acceptance between Ullmann and the Norwegian people. Recently she performed a powerful artistic and human role with the Norwegian national theatre company Riksteatret, touring the popular play Long Day’s Journey into Night through Norway to high acclaim. She directed Uncle Vanja at Oslo’s Nationaltheatret last year. She was also lauded by renowned actress Cate Blanchett, who considered it an honour to be directed by Ullmann in A Streetcar Named Desire in Australia and on Broadway.

Ullman also honestly and tenderly told the story of the relationship with her partner, legendary Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, in the documentary Liv and Ingmar. Next she’ll begin directing an adaption of August Strindberg’s play Frøken Julie, to be filmed in Ireland with Jessica Chastain, Samantha Morton and Colin Farrel in starring roles. Ullmann wrote the screenplay herself, and said it would be her last film.

As well as a stage and screen actor, Ullmann’s many roles include author, director, UNICEF ambassador and fearless debater. Her great-grandfather Viggo was a Norwegian parliamentary president, and another relative, Ragna Nielsen, was a driving force behind women’s right to vote.

newsinenglish.no/Emily Woodgate