Film Review: ‘Ingrid Bergman — In Her Own Words’

Ingrid Bergman In her own Words
Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

Letters, diaries and archival interviews are used to offer a first-person, largely unanalytical bio of the Swedish-born star.

A treasure trove of home movies is the main reason to see Stig Bjorkman’s loving documentary “Ingrid Bergman — In Her Own Words,”  which mines excerpts from the Swedish-born star’s letters and diaries as well as archival interviews. Fans are unlikely to learn anything new, and the docu may disappoint others with its rather too-frequent focus on Bergman as mother rather than on Bergman’s craft as actor, suggesting a missed opportunity to explore a complex stage and screen presence. Still, the actress’s evergreen popularity means the film will be well traveled, though audiences catching the 58-minute small screen version may be equally satisfied.

The lack of any significant investigation into performance styles is acutely felt, particularly given the very different methods of her major directors: George Cukor, Alfred Hitchcock, Roberto Rossellini, Jean Renoir, Stanley Donen, Ingmar Bergman. There’s some light personality analysis — she was driven, she was shy, “love came through the camera lens,” she was courageous – and all four children paint an appealing portrait of their largely absent mother. Yet in terms of psychological depth, Bjorkman, maker of docus on Ingmar Bergman and Lars von Trier, barely goes beyond the level of a Biography Channel portrait.

It seems otherwise at the start: Via Alicia Vikander’s first-person voiceover (as Bergman), the docu opens in 1928 with the 12-year-old’s concern about her beloved father’s health. His death the following year, along with that of several loved ones, was a tremendous blow, though immediately cutting from this to black-and-white newsreels of Bergman at a film premiere seems to imply that death haunted the actress throughout her life — a concept not quite supported by the docu as a whole. Certainly her father’s delight in photographing and filming his daughter left a lasting impression, and it makes sense when Bergman’s children say that their mother’s relationship with the camera was a way of reconnecting with that lost paternal warmth.

Perhaps because of the uproar following Bergman’s relationship with Rossellini, her personal life is better known than those of many others from the era. She was a fast-rising star in Sweden with a doctor husband, Petter Lindstrom, and daughter Pia, when she received a contract from David Selznick to appear in a remake of her first big role, “Intermezzo.” Already more interested in acting than in playing mommy (or wife), Bergman was in relationships with Robert Capa and Victor Fleming by the mid-1940s.

However, it was only when she left Lindstrom and daughter for Rossellini that the wrath of Puritan America turned her into a pariah. She had difficulty adjusting to Rossellini’s neorealist style, and in interviews described their films together as noble failures — of course, those films are now part of the canon, though Bjorkman’s focus on the woman rather than on her movies passes over any discussion of the films’ critical fortunes.

When the marriage crumbled she took to the stage, making magical visits to her children in Italy (Pia started becoming reacquainted with her mother only in 1956), yet largely placing work first. Most of her kids seem to have made peace with their mother’s priorities, and while Pia certainly felt abandoned, even she speaks kindly about Bergman’s palpable charm.

Bjorkman highlights Bergman’s intense drive, and her unceasing interest in working with challenging directors was certainly unusual (though she could be resistant once outside her comfort zone, as with Ingmar Bergman). Isabella Rossellini says that Hitchcock taught her mother to lighten up, though how? Is there nothing in her letters or diaries that address her working methods with Renoir as opposed to, say, Lewis Milestone? Also, Lindstrom’s managing of her early career receives no mention.

Fortunately, the exceptional home movies, many shot by Bergman herself, are an unending source of pleasure, visually reinforcing her children’s warm-hearted reminiscences: Their mother was fun to be around. Judging from the letters she wrote to Ruth Roberts, Irene Selznick and others, she was also a good friend (seconded in several memoirs). “In Her Own Words” boasts solid tech credits and a Michael Nyman score whose unmistakable “ostinatos” hark back to the composer’s best-known film music.

Film Review: 'Ingrid Bergman — In Her Own Words'

Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Cannes Classics), May 19, 2015. Running time: 113 MIN. (Original title: “Jag ar Ingrid”)

Production

(Documentary — Sweden) A Mantaray Film, ZDF production, in collaboration with Arte, Jonas Gardell Produktion, Spellbound Capital and Filminvestering in Orebro through Filmregion Stockholm-Malardalen, SVT, Chimney Pot, Henrik Johnsson, Annica och Bo Uddenas, YLE, NTR. (International sales: TrustNordisk, Hvidovre, Denmark.) Produced by Stina Gardell. Executive producer, Max Hallen.

Crew

Directed by Stig Bjorkman. Written by Bjorkman, Stina Gardell, Dominika Daubenbuechel. Camera (color/B&W), Malin Korkeasalo; (color, Super 8mm), Eva Dahlgren; editor, Daubenbuechel; music, Michael Nyman; sound, Mario Adamson; associate producer, Anna Weitz.

With

Isabella Rossellini, Pia Lindstrom, Ingrid Rossellini, Roberto Rossellini, Fiorella Mariani, Sigourney Weaver, Liv Ullmann, Jeanine Basinger. Voice: Alicia Vikander. (Swedish, English, French, Italian dialogue)

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 2

Leave a Reply

2 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. jcbell45 says:

    Julie bell Bradford West Yorkshire England. Ibhv just found out today , a distant cousin of British actor Tom Hiddleston, Dagny Servaes, daughter of Roderick Servaes, brother of Lieut William Reginald Servaes, father of Tom’s grd mother Patricia. Dagny ‘voiced’ the character the ‘wicked witch’ in original Disney animation ‘ Snow White’. For those who don’t know, Tom’s grt uncle Ralph Bruce Verney, the ‘Bruce’ part of the family, descended from 2 different Royal dynasties. (1) William the Conqueror, through Henry Clifford. William invaded England 1066AD became King (2) Princess Mary TudorTudor, thru her daughter Eleanor, by Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk; England. Mary Tudor sister if English King Henry 8th + Margaret Tudor. Margaret Tudor ancestor of the British Royal family. My 5 x grd father Thomas Coggan – Coggan one of 19 variations of ancient Welsh Cogan dynasty. By a Norman lord, Anon later John, ‘founded’ Welsh village Cogan, 1139AD, he then adopted village name as his surname. He had 3 sons with Gwladys FitzWalter – Miles, Richard + Geoffrey. Gwladys daughter of Nest Rhys, daughter of ancient Welsh King Rhys Tewdwr. Nest’s brother Gruffydd ancestor of King Henry 8th, Margaret Tudor + Princess Mary Tudor. See my blogs ‘julie Bell my Scottish welsh royal heritage / julie bell chart of Tom Hiddlestons grt uncle Ralph Bruce Verney’ on normal ‘google’

More Film News from Variety

Loading