Stig Björkman: Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words
d. Stig Björkman (2015)
Spine: #828
Blu-ray release date: August 16, 2016
Screen captures below are taken from The Criterion Collection Blu-ray disc.

In 2015, to mark Ingrid Bergman’s 100th birthday, film critic Stig Björkman, with the help of Bergman’s four children and using Bergman’s diaries and letters, directed a documentary that takes us through the life and career of one of the most famous actresses in world cinema, a woman who acted in several countries and languages, over decades, winning three Oscars in the meantime. We might expect a documentary like this to be a supplement on a release of a film starring Bergman (similar to how Dheerjal Akolkar’s wonderful 2012 documentary Liv and Ingmar was a supplement to The Criterion Collection’s release of Ingmar Bergman’s Persona), but The Criterion Collection chose to release it on its own. Since Ingrid Bergman’s life is a fascinating story in and of itself, and Björkman knows how to arrange the pieces to emphasize the emotion, the documentary more than deserves to stand on its own.

Ingrid Bergman Cover

Björkman can rely heavily on Bergman’s diary entries and letters — narrated in voice over by Alicia Vikander — because she kept so many (she told her daughter Isabella Rossellini she wrote and kept them because “I always knew I was going to become famous”) and was articulate and open to her friends, telling them of an affair she was having or of her plans to leave a lover, cutting off an important part of her life.

The ambition and openness is apparent even when Bergman is a child. The film begins with Bergman’s words about a particularly tragic year in her life, 1929, when she was just going on fourteen. Her two older siblings died within a short time of their birth, and when Bergman was two her mother died. But in 1929 her beloved father, a photographer who introduced Bergman to the wonders of a camera, died as well, leaving the young girl adrift. There’s obvious sadness at this young age, but she also shows an early determination to get out of Sweden.

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She worked hard to get roles, and the documentary shows clips of her first as “girl standing in line” in Landskamp from 1932. It didn’t take long, though, before she became a local star, a stepping stone, as it turned out, for her to make her way to Hollywood.

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The early days in Hollywood provide some of the most touching segments of the documentary. By this time, Bergman had married and had her first daughter, Pia Lindström. Pia lived with her father in Rochester, New York, and Bergman would travel to see them periodically.

Björkman shows us home video footage of Pia playing in New York, accompanied by images of Bergman smiling in shoots in Hollywood. Meanwhile, Vikander’s voice over emphasizes this tragic separation, which was particularly awful when Bergman was having difficulty getting work: “Half of me is alive. The other half is packed away in a suitcase, suffocating.”

Then came Casablanca, and the world became Bergman’s oyster.

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Which isn’t to say her life became easy. Indeed, it seems that Bergman never wanted to settle down and constantly desired to test herself and break boundaries.

She was tremendously successful in Hollywood, consistently starring in films, winning Oscars, working with the great directors, but by 1949, having worked in Hollywood for a decade, she felt trapped again and felt there was a different way to work — and to live, as it would turn out.

It was at that time she saw Roberto Rossellini’s great war films Rome, Open City and Paisan. She didn’t know Rossellini, but she took it upon herself to write to him and offer herself up for a role, any role, should he have need of “a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian knows only ‘ti amo,’ I am ready to come and make a film with you.” This flirtatious letter set off the next part of her career, her Italian period. Three of the films she made in this period, all by Roberto Rossellini, are collected in one of Criterion’s best releases, the aptly titled 3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman.

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The Hollywood star had extended herself and sought fulfillment elsewhere, both in her career and her life. Bergman and Rossellini fell in love and had a child, Roberto. We can barely imagine the outrage and scandal this caused. Everyone who had seen Bergman as the kindly, warm, strong, loyal (if tempted) woman in Casablanca , or starring alongside Bing Crosby in The Bells of St. Mary’s, or getting in and out of scrapes with Gregory Peck and Cary Grant in Alfred Hitchcock’s films, felt betrayed and didn’t mind saying it. This all became worse during a very public trial when Bergman’s husband sued for abandonment, something Pia in particular felt strongly.

Pia shares her feelings in this documentary, and the film is all the stronger for it. Her half-siblings — Roberto, Ingrid, and Isabella Rossellini — have their own hurt feelings. Bergman’s relationship with Rossellini didn’t last, after all, and they also had to watch their parents move on and away.

They missed their mother tremendously, but while they’re saying this it is also clear how much they loved her. Indeed, they missed her so much because she was such a wonderful presence in their lives, when she was around. The latter portion of this documentary is, in large part, about these relationships. The children still miss their mother and have come together to honor her and her legacy with this documentary that is about a world-class movie star but that turns out to be a work of personal, tender beauty.


The Criterion Collection edition:

  • Stig Björkman: This is a 18:34-minute interview with the director. He never planned to make this film, he says, but was persuaded by Isabella Rossellini. He talks about how he sifted through the material and tried to find a powerful way to present them. It worked.
  • Home Movies: This supplement, running 7:07 minutes, shows the home video footage Pia Lindström offered for the film, some of which is used in various parts of the documentary.
  • Deleted Scenes:
    • “How I Would Raise My Daughter”: Bergman’s three daughters read an essay Bergman wrote when she was seventeen called “How I Would Raise My Daughter.” I wish this had made it into the film as it goes so well with the tenderness these women feel toward their mother who, at the time she wrote the essay, had no idea who these women would be and how her relationship with them would become a source of comfort and trouble.
    • Rosario Tronnolone: The film historian and owner of the world’s largest collection of Bergman materials talks for 8:45 minutes on Bergman’s allure.
  • Extended Scenes: I’m glad these were included because I frankly had an appetite for more.
    • Shubert Theatre: This extends the scene where Sigourney Weaver, Isabella Rossellini, and Liv Ullman talk about Bergman at the Shubert Theatre to 14:01 minutes.
    • Rossellini Siblings: This extends the scene with the three Rossellini siblings to 5:48 minutes.
  • Landskamp: This 34-second clip shows Bergman as an extra waiting in line in her first on-screen appearance.
  • On the Sunny Side Outtakes: Here we get 4:02-minutes of outtakes from one of Bergman’s Swedish films, On the Sunny Side, from 1936.
  • The disc ends with a music video of the song “The Movie About Us,” by Eva Dahlgren, and a trailer. It is accompanied by an essay, “A Full Picture of a Life,” by Jeanine Bassinger.

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