Stig Björkman directs fascinating documentary feature about one of cinema’s brightest stars
Seven time Academy Award nominee and three time Academy Award winner Ingrid Bergman was one of the most talented actresses of Hollywood’s Golden Age of Cinema with performances in films such as CASABLANCA (1942), GASLIGHT (1944) and AUTUMN SONATA (1978). 2015 marks the centenary of Ingrid Bergman’s birth and as a testament to her as a pioneer, mother and icon, director Stig Björkman has put together fascinating documentary about her life.
INGRID BERGMAN – IN HER OWN WORDS is a captivating behind-the-scenes look at the remarkable life of a young Swedish girl who became one of the most celebrated actresses of American and World cinema. The documentary film was inspired by a chance meeting with Ingrid Bergman’s daughter Isabella Rossellini who met with Björkman in spring 2011 and suggested to him that he “make a film about Mama”. It made its premiere at the 68th Cannes International Film Festival in 2015 where it received a special mention for L’Œil d’or award and is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival as part of the Love strand on Saturday 17 October.
Told through a veritable treasure trove of never-before-seen home footage, personal letters and diary extracts, INGRID BERGMAN – IN HER OWN WORDS presents a personal portrait of the remarkable life of Bergman. The documentary features archive footage and frank interviews with her four children, film historians, fellow actresses and friends, showcasing Bergman’s passion for film and theatre, her appetite for adventure, her notorious romances and her unconventional love for her family.
Introduced to the camera at an early age by her beloved father, Bergman was incredibly adept at recording her life. This quietly paced documentary narrated by a Swedish actress Alicia Vikander, is essentially a piece on how Bergman saw herself, with snippets from home movies and photographs she took with her camera. As a result, the portrait that emerges is incredibly intimate – perhaps too intimate to appeal to a larger audience – but is fascinating nevertheless.
As a fan of Bergman’s early work, I was somewhat disappointed to find her ten years in Hollywood brushed over rather quickly. Classic films like GASLIGHT (which earned her a first Academy Award for best actress) and the legendary CASABLANCA are barely touched on, while her three films with Alfred Hitchcock – SPELLBOUND, NOTORIOUS and UNDER CAPRICORN – are barely mentioned. If you’re interested in Bergman’s early films, working methods and overall Hollywood experience, you’ll probably be disappointed. There is hardly any footage from her early films and when she does discuss Hollywood, it is with a hint of bitterness and resentment.
What is fascinating however, is her relationship with her children. Ingrid Bergman was a rare and brave woman who lived and died for her art without ever thinking of the consequences of her actions for her family. Leaving for Hollywood at 23, Bergman abandoned her first daughter Pia from her marriage with Petter Lindström when she was just a child, only to meet her years later after she was already an adult. After separating from Rossellini in 1957, Bergman also left their three children, Roberto, Ingrid and Isabella behind in Italy. In her own words, Bergman states that she preferred that she became more of friend to her children than a mother, which is a little sad but incredibly honest.
Bergman’s four children, Pia Lindstrom, Roberto Rossellini, Ingrid Rossellini and Isabella Rossellini hold back any anger they hold towards their mother in the documentary. However imperfect she was as a parent, her children state that she was so charming and such fun to be with that they never felt any resentment. In fact, the only bitterness they seem to harbour is that they “didn’t get to spend more time with her.”
The documentary speeds up towards the end when we meet Sigourney Weaver and Liv Ullmann who discuss their collaborations with Bergman. Weaver recalls what it was like being on stage with Bergman in her first professional job as an understudy in Sir John Gielguds production of THE CONSTANT WIFE. Liv Ullmann tells a story of how Bergman and Ingmar Bergman left the set when making AUTUMN SONATA to quarrel loudly because they could not agree on the dialogue.
Bergman sadly died of breast cancer in 1982 on her 67th birthday but her legacy to cinema certainly lives on.
While INGRID BERGMAN – IN HER OWN WORDS is not without its flaws, director Stig Björkman does a decent job of portraying Bergman as the strong, liberated, opinionated and accomplished woman she was. A fascinating documentary about one of cinema’s brightest stars.
INGRID BERGMAN – IN HER OWN WORDS is on at BFI London Film Festival on 17 October 2015.