Haugesund: Bjorkman on ‘Ingrid Bergman,’ and the Woman Behind the Myth

Director talks about his docu-portrait of Ingrid Bergman, which plays Norway’s Haugesund Festival

ingrid Bergman, Paris, 1957
Courtesy: Lenart Nilsson

Few will have missed the fact that centenarian Ingrid Bergman adorned this year’s Cannes Fest poster. At the same festival, Sig Björkman’s iconic and very personal portrait of the Swedish movie star premiered. “Ingrid Bergman — In Her Own Words” was warmly received and won a special mention in Cannes new L’Oeil d’Or docu competition. Soon after Cannes, the film screened at Il Cinema Ritrovato in Bologna, one of Europe’s top two classic film meets. It is now set for the Haugesund Norwegian Film Festival, as the only documentary selected for its Nordic Focus.

The film has already sold to 20 countries, with world sales handled by TrustNordisk, and by NonStop Ent. in Scandinavia. On Aug. 24, a special ceremony will be held at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, where Stig Bjorkman’s film is the main act and where all Ingrid Bergman’s four children will take part, as well as the film’s composer, Michael Nyman. The film is produced by Mantaray Film; Ingrid Bergman’s voice is provided by another Swede, Alicia Vikander, one of Hollywood’s fastest-rising stars,

On Nov. 29, Ingrid Bergman would have turned 100, one day before the national release of Björkman’s film. Known for his fine documentaries and interviews with directors such as Ingmar Bergman, Woody Allen and Lars von Trier, director and critic Bjorkman seems an apt choice to handle Ingrid Bergman’s affluent life and equally prosperous archives.

Accessing her diaries and her own private footage, Bjorkman’s film gives an inside perspective of one of the most distinguished of actors, Academy Awarded twice for actress (”Gaslight,” ”Anastasia”), and once for her performance in a supporting role (”Murder on the Orient Express”). The film also shows a woman who always chose her own path.

Variety chatted with director Stig Björkman before the Haugesund screenings:

Isabella Rossellini asked you to make a film based on Ingrid Bergman’s archive at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. How did that happen?

I was at the Berlinale in 2011 in connection with a big exhibition on Ingmar Bergman, where Harriet Andersson and I were invited to give a speech on Bergman. One night we came to meet Isabella Rossellini, who actually wanted to speak with Harriet. But Isabella and I sat next to each other, and suddenly she turned to me asking, ‘Shall we make a film about mama?’ How do you respond to a proposition like that? ‘Yes, of course!’

Did you ever meet Ingrid Bergman in person?

Yes, in the summer of 1968 there was a Swedish film week held in Sorrento, Italy. Thirty or so Swedish actors and directors were invited. The final ceremony was held at the Opera in Naples, and we were supposed to go there by bus. But when I arrived, the bus was already full. So I ”had to” go to Naples in a limousine intended for Ingrid Bergman, the week’s honorary guest. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to pronounce more than a few polite phrases with Ingrid, who sat in the back chatting with a close friend, whereas I sat in the front.

The archive material shown in the film is so rich. Were you surprised by her way of collecting and documenting her life, both professional and private things?

Yes, indeed, I was astonished and impressed by the wealth of the material. She had practically kept everything — letters, diaries, photographs and, not the least, a great deal of Super 8 and 16mm films. There were also letters that her parents had sent to each other during the time of their engagement.

I believe it was a way for her to remember and to stay close to the family she had lost way too early. Her background is of course tragic. The mother died when Ingrid was 3 and the father when she was 13. Throughout all the years and despite all her moving around, Ingrid Bergman brought her archive with her, from Sweden to Hollywood, to Italy, to Paris and finally to London.

Do you believe her wide success would have been possible, with great directors in various countries and cultures, had she not been so ambitious and restless and if she hadn’t always chosen the career before her family?

No, probably not. Work was very important for her, and it always came first. She proceeded as most men during that time, first came work and duty, then children and family. But during the time spent at home, she was a very present mother — all her kids have said so.

What has been most interesting and difficult things and what have you learnt during the process?

To choose, not the least what concerns Ingrid Bergman’s private material. The more I’ve learnt about her life, both private and professional, the more impressed am I by her courage and independence. I regard her as an early feminist, by the way she lived and appeared.

Also people in the audience have been deeply moved and occupied by her life and the not always so conventional choices in life. I hope that the film can give a new and richer and more surprising image of Ingrid Bergman, the human being. This classical saying: “the man behind the myth.” Because the myth, whether she was considered and described as a saint or a whore, has many other and much more interesting shades.

Which films are your Ingrid Bergman favorites?

I would say “Notorious” by Hitchcock, the Rossellini trilogy with ”Stromboli,” ”Europe 51” and ”Voyage to Italy” and ”Autumn Sonata” by Ingmar Bergman. Perhaps ”Casablanca” shouldn’t be left out either.

Speaking of Ingmar Bergman, the portraits of celebrated Swedes don’t seem to end with Ingrid Bergman. B-Reel Films, which had a great national hit with a documentary on Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, is currently in development on Jane Magnusson’s new film on Ingmar Bergman. It’s no daring guess that they aim for release in 2018, the year when Ingmar Bergman would have turned 100.