‘Ingrid Bergman — In Her Own Words’ a surprisingly intimate portrait of the movie star
When director Stig Björkman decided to call his documentary “Ingrid Bergman — In Her Own Words,” he was not being poetic but literal.
For Bergman — nominated for seven Oscars, winner of three, iconic for starring opposite Humphrey Bogart in “Casablanca” — was one of those people who never threw anything away, keeping even early childhood diaries until the end of her life. The daughter of a photographer, Bergman was also an inveterate taker of home movies, all of which she saved as well.
The diaries as well as candid letters Bergman wrote throughout her life to old friends (all feelingly read in Swedish by her compatriot Alicia Vikander) plus those marvelous movies contribute to making “In Her Own Words” a surprisingly intimate film, a completely involving look inside the life of a gifted and complex woman.
Helping with that intimacy is that all four of Bergman’s children, including fellow actress Isabella Rossellini, not only cooperated with director Björkman but also gave on-camera interviews about the peculiar dynamics that come into play when your mother is an international movie star.
Given the freshness and vitality of her acting persona, it is unexpected to hear about the sadness of Bergman’s childhood. Her mother died when she was 3, her father when she was 12, and the first diary excerpt Vikander reads has the young girl pleading, “God in heaven, don’t abandon me.”
Acting was on Bergman’s mind from an early age, as was pleasing her photographer father, who peered at her through his camera, leading daughter Pia Lindström to intriguingly speculate that the eventual affairs she had with directors (and celebrated war photographer Robert Capa) came because she believed “love came through a lens.”
Bergman was already a star in Swedish films when “Gone With the Wind” producer David O. Selznick hired her for a Hollywood remake of one of her domestic hits, “Intermezzo.”
Especially fascinating are two of the screen tests Bergman made for Selznick, snippets of film that dazzle even today. A silent one without makeup reveals the natural radiance that became her trademark, and a sound test shows that even as a young actress she had technique to go along with the naturalness, a formidable combination indeed.
In addition, Bergman was something of a workaholic as an actress, someone who, as Alfred Hitchcock (who directed her in “Notorious”) put it, “took films more seriously than she took life.”
Her letters to friends record not only her delight at working with co-stars like Bogart and Cary Grant but also her pure pleasure at attaining “everything I’ve always wanted. It’s incredible when your dreams come true.”
That uncomplicated happiness was not fated to last, partly because, as Bergman said of herself, “I was the shyest creature in the world but I had a lion in me that wouldn’t keep quiet.”
After being bowled over by both “Open City” and “Paisan,” she wrote a fan letter to Italian director Roberto Rossellini, offering her acting services. The two had an affair during the filming of “Stromboli,” and when the married Bergman had a child out of wedlock, the moralistic American reaction was off the charts, with one senator going so far as to say “out of Ingrid Bergman’s ashes will grow a better Hollywood.”
Bergman married Rossellini, worked in Europe for years, and outlasted the fuss, though it took awhile. (The film offers a clip of Ed Sullivan asking his TV audience if she should be forgiven.) Bergman’s typically tart response was “I’ve gone from saint to whore and back again, all in one lifetime.”
Bergman had four children, three with Rossellini and one with her first husband, Petter Lindström, and though she clearly loved them, she didn’t feel compelled to actually live with them, often residing elsewhere for either personal or professional reasons. All the children talk on camera about the varying degrees of distress this caused.
The actress rationalized her nontraditional mothering, saying she’d rather be a friend than someone who tells them to brush their teeth, and her children uniformly say she was so much fun to be with that nothing else seemed to matter. “She went where the wind took her,” Pia Lindström says, and this revealing film shows where those destinations were.
‘Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words’
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes
Playing: Nuart, West Los Angeles
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