Film

She Did It Her Way: 'Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words'

Home-movies show us the real star as Bergman's children tell us about their real mother.


Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words

Director: Stig Björkman
Cast: Ingrid Bergman
Distributor: Criterion
Year: 2015
Release date: 2016-08-16

This documentary of Ingrid Bergman's life could be called "In Her Own Images", because most of the footage is from her own home movies. Even when she was an ambitious Swedish teenager who fully intended to become a great actress, as she told her diary, Bergman had already picked up the photography bug from her father. He filmed her all the time before he died when she was 14, her mother having died when Ingrid was two.

Throughout her life, Bergman took still photos and 8mm and 16mm movies of her life on and off the movie sets. As her loved ones speculate, she related to the camera as a source of love, and it's one she learned to control as well as hungered to receive. She also saved her many diaries and letters, with the result that we have a fully documented life of this major star of film and theatre.

At the invitation of Bergman's children, director Stig Björkman put together this collage of a life lived according to her will, professionally and personally. Alicia Vikander reads aloud from Bergman's writings, so the viewer has an impression of an autobiography with interjections from the children -- Pia Lindstrom, Roberto Rossellini (Jr.), and twins Isabella and Ingrid Rossellini -- plus reminiscences from Sigourney Weaver and Liv Ullmann.

There are only a few scenes from Bergman’s actual movies as this isn't a catalogue of her films. The most dazzling clip, never before seen, is her Hollywood screen test for David O. Selznick. The clapper makes a point of claiming "no makeup, no lip rouge" before we're dazzled by silent color footage of the girlish Bergman looking in various directions before smiling at the camera. It loves her, and the feeling is mutual. This footage could be the textbook definition of "star power".

Having lost most of her family before she entered drama school, Bergman quit to pursue film jobs and was Sweden's biggest female star within a few years. She answered Hollywood's call to great success, as witnessed by home movies with the Selznicks, Alfred Hitchcock, and Cary Grant. To pursue her Hollywood career, she left daughter Pia with her father in New York, and this was part of a pattern wherein she felt comfortable leaving her children in classy, luxurious surroundings while she hardly saw them.

As Pia remarks, being around her was so much fun, because “Mama” was so charming and dazzling, that her children's only complaint was wanting more of her. Then again, her absence made her presence that much more of a privileged occasion. At any rate, she was not considered to be a harsh mother and the kids have only fondly wistful memories of their funny, glamorous mom who made life a party when she could fit them into her schedule.

Bergman's steely determination and honesty led to a colossal mid-century scandal when she had a child out of wedlock by Italian filmmaker Roberto Rossellini, whom she had sought out to turn her career in a different direction with a new type of movie. Bergman was pilloried in the US press and denounced in the US Senate, and this was as much a sign as any of Hollywood's waning control over its stars in the postwar era. Bergman waited it out, making films with Rossellini that didn't do so well (Voyage in Italy is a masterpiece), then bounced back and picked up another Oscar (from her total of three) before a third marriage, life in Paris and London, and a late film with Ingmar Bergman (no relation).

In retrospect, Ingrid Bergman’s calm certainty of her path to stardom is as remarkable as her relative unconcern at her fall from grace and her focus on toughing it out with work in-between filming her kids at this mansion or that island. We get the impression that she knew what she wanted without caring what was "appropriate" or what anyone thought. In a way, she was the Madonna of her day, albeit in much better movies.

Extras are an interview with the director, a few extended and deleted scenes (including a visit with an uberfan surrounded by Bergman memorabilia), her first screen clip and outtakes from a Swedish film, and a video for an Eva Dahlgren song heard on the soundtrack.

8

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