Movies We Like
Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words
With The Criterion Collection’s release of the wonderful box set 3 Films by Roberto Rossellini Starring Ingrid Bergman (Stromboli, Europe ’51 and Journey To Italy), a little seen documentary that would have made a perfect supplement instead has been given its own stand-alone release -- because it’s that good. Director Stig Bjorkman’s 2015 Swedish doc Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words actually proves to be just as compelling and well made as anything in the more celebrated box set. This is as good a documentary about a monumental film actress as has ever been produced, thanks to a treasure trove of correspondence, home movies, and, of course, footage from her own films and news reels (since she was the original international paparazzi prey). Ingrid Bergman was a complete original. Besides having a hall-of-fame film career she also lived one of the most interesting offscreen lives that often played out like a Douglas Sirk melodrama.
Ingrid grew up in a family of people who died young, which gave her extra drive. While still a teenager, she become a popular film actress in her homeland of Sweden. She was brought to America by big-time movie producer David O. Selznick to star in a remake of her own film, Intermezzo. In ’39, the film ended up being a big hit and -- bang! -- she was a star. An astonishing run of films would make her the most important film actress of the 1940s. She would get four Oscar nominations in the decade for The Bells of St Mary’s, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Joan of Arc and Gaslight, for which she won the award. She was in the popular Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde as well as in Hitchcock films Spellbound and Notorious (his greatest movie, so says I). Most famously, she would play Ilsa in quite possibly the most beloved film of the decade, Casablanca. All this before the age of thirty-three!
When she first came to Hollywood, she brought a husband and daughter with her, whom she did not see much of. Bergman was deeply ambitious about her career; she was dedicated to her craft and passionate about her social life.
With the film, Rome, Open City, Italian director Roberto Rossellini would help define the gritty genre known as neorealism. Bergman was a fan. She wrote the director a letter and was soon working with him in Italy on Stromboli. The two fell in love. Bergman would leave her Hollywood career to make films with her new husband and leave behind her ex and her daughter. Her new love become one of Hollywood’s biggest scandals. She was condemned by pious politicians on the floors of Congress and was basically run out of America.
And...intermission. What a life -- and that’s just the first half! She would go on to have three children with Rossellini (including future actress Isabella Rossellini). All four of her kids were involved with this film and speak very candidly about their mother. She would have more adventures, win two more Oscars, leave Rossellini and Italy (and her children, who were raised by nannies). She truly was one of Hollywood's great rebels. She lived life completely by her own rules.
The consummate artist, Bergman spent her life carrying around cameras (photo and 14 mm film) so there is a ton of never-before-seen footage of her and her family. She was also a prolific letter writer and diary keeper (read here, by the great Swedish actress Alicia Vikander). No one questions Bergman’s art; she was a brilliant actress in multiple languages. She lived a life that, had she been a man, would never have been questioned. The children do not seem upset at their mother. They seem to admire her. Isabella, with humor, points out that she just found the kids boring compared to the rest of her life.
I read a review of the movie I disagree with: the writer said that Bjorkman is never able to solve the mystery of who exactly Bergman was. I think her children and the filmmaker make it clear she was driven by love, but mostly by acting. Even during her brief banishment from Hollywood she went to the stage (and had an accomplished stage career as well) before reinventing herself as an older actress of international cinema. Fittingly, she made her final film, Autumn Sonata in Sweden with the most important Swedish director in cinema history, Ingmar Bergman (no relation). It was full circle for Bergman. And, in the end, her life might have been more dramatic and more full of passion than any of the movies she acted in -- it definitely deserves its own stand-alone DVD and blu-ray documentary.