Entertainment » Movies

Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Aug 29, 2016
Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words

A documentary about Ingrid Bergman such as this one -- "Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words" -- promises much, and director Stig Björkman delivers on that promise. We're treated here to an account of Bergman's peripatetic life and career not only by means of her own diaries (read by another extraordinary Swedish actress, Alicia Vikander), letters, and home movies, but also by the comments and memories of her children, along with a few other colleagues and family members.

This is, in short, Ingrid Bergman in her own words and the words of select others.

Björkman relies, of course, on movie clips (beautifully restored, as are Bergman's home movies), but also on the talents of amateur Super 8 filmmaker Eva Dahlgren (a famous Swedish singer who also recorded a song for the closing credits). Also featured are plenty of still photos, archival interviews, and an appearance by film historian Jeanine Basinger -- author of a number of books about cinema -- who also lends her talents to this Criterion release by penning an essay about the film.

The journey Bergman took through history and career is compelling, and bears some striking parallels to other major actresses of the age -- her home movies show brownshirts and Hitler Youths on the march, and the story of her emigration to America in the shadow of the impending World War II and her service to U.S. troops as an entertainer during the war years is remarkably similar, in some respects, to the story of Marlene Dietrich; and, later on, her scandalous affair and subsequent marriage to filmmaker Roberto Rossellini presaged, by more than a decade, the eerily similar and heated controversy created by Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's affair (which also resulted in marriage... twice).

Also like Dietrich, Bergman left a husband and child behind when she headed for America to become a Hollywood star -- in Bergman's case, it was at the invitation of David O. Selznick, who wanted her for an American remake of Bergman's Swedish movie "Intermezzo." husband Pettir and daughter Pia joined her in the States later, but the restless Bergman needed to continue with her career, which she pushed in Hollywood while Pettir became a surgeon on the other side of the country. Well before Rossellini entered the picture and the couple divorced, however, Bergman had a passionate fling with a war photographer named Robert Capa.

Bergman's children (all four appear here: Pia Lindström, Roberto Rossellini, Ingrid Rossellini, and Isabella Rossellini) weigh in about her taste in men who worked behind cameras, linking her interest in filmmakers and photographers to her father, also a photographer, whom she lost to cancer when she was only 14. (Her mother had died years earlier, "of jaundice," we learn.) The kids also talk about how Ingrid was an absentee mother; then again, Rossellini, too, was often away for work, and in one scene we hear a description about a "children's house" kitted out with a variety of entertainments and distractions for the brood.

But if Bergman wasn't the standard housewife and mother -- or, more typical of today, the usual working mother -- she demonstrated a remarkable consistency insofar as she (much like the men in her life) was often behind a camera, capturing memories on film, including many memories of the time she did have to spend with her children. That invaluable trove illustrates and enlightens this movie, as does a comment one of her daughters makes about looking, after Ingrid's death, at correspondence she carried on with Selznick's wife. Expecting to find some sort of record of what Hollywood and the film business was like for women of the day, instead what she discovered were letters full of talk about the women's children.

Bergman went on to work with various luminaries, including Alfred Hitchcock, Jean Renoir, Anatole Litvak, and Ingmar Bergman. After her scandalous affair with, and marriage to, Rossellini, Renoir cast her in the comedy "Elena and Her Men," which seems a little meta (and more than a little cheeky); Litvak, when faced with a studio jittery about the prospect of casting Bergman in his film "Anastasia," announced that if she wasn't going to work on the film, neither was he, and got his way; and the two Bergmans, Ingrid and Ingmar, had a ferocious clash over her character in "Autumn Sonata." (Formidable as Ingrid was, Ingmar won that battle.)

But Basinger, in her essay, nails it on the head when she identifies the most compelling aspect of Ingrid Bergman's story, writing that Bergman is "a prime example... of the twentieth-century woman" who "wants and needs love, wants and needs children," but also "unapologetically wants and needs significant work that matters to her..." Seen through that prism, and given the quirks, innovations, and peculiarities of the 20th century, the similarities in Bergman's story to contemporaries like Taylor and Dietrich come to seem inevitable. Of course, their lives and careers played out the way they did: These were women whose artistry and passion were every bit as driving and hot as those of accomplished men.

This being a recent film -- released just last year -- there hasn't been time for a great deal of supplementary material to accrue. Even so, Criterion adds to this Blu-ray release with an 18-minute interview with Björkman, who details how the film came to be made. There are also deleted and extended scenes, a short outtake from Bargeman's first film ("Landskamp," 1932), and outtakes from another early film, "On the Sunny Side" (1936), the latter being footage of the same scene being shot in several different ways. More of Bergman's home movies are also included, and so is a music video for the song that plays over the closing credits, "The Movie About Us," by the aforementioned Eva Dahlgren.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


Comments

Add New Comment

Comments on Facebook