Sven Nykvist is a large blonde Swedish man. He towers over anyone else that is present in the frame. But at the same time he seems to fade into the background, especially when he is placed next to Bergman, Tarkovsky, Allen, or Polanski. In Light Keeps Me Company, Nykvist’s son tells the story of one of the most influential cinematographers of all time.
Nykvist is associated most closely with Ingmar Bergman. He started working with him on Sawdust and Tinsel and was his main cinematographer for most of Bergman’s career. He was instrumental in creating how a Bergman film looks. Working closely with Bergman, Nykvist devised the play with the sunlight hitting the snow and casting shadows on the actors’ faces in Winter Light. He photographed the plain faces of Liv Ullman and Bibi Anderson in a way that became an art form. But Nykvist is terribly humble about his achievements. Bergman explains that Nykvist would never order anything, he would instead suggest something and almost always that thing would be spot on. He just understood light in an innate way.
Many of the interview subjects (many of whom you would recognize) posit that the reason why Nykvist was so good at his profession was because he maintained a naiveté about the world around him. He was a terribly optimistic creature despite his childhood and several lifetime tragedies. And yet there a couple of biographical aspects that are glossed over in order to paint a flattering picture of him. Merely him being away at work all the time wouldn’t be the only cause to his divorce and probably not even his son’s suicide. There has got to be something else going on in Nykvist’s mind or actions that would ensure these outcomes. I can forgive these plot holes because Nykvist was still alive during the making of this film and that the film was made by his son. But I think there is something about his personality that needs more exploring.
Overall this is a pleasant documentary about a pleasant man. No one says anything bad about him and his life story is interesting enough to keep one engaged for a little bit over an hour. There is nothing groundbreaking here, other than an interest to re watch all of the iconic films he photographed in order to see his influence on them.