You cannot help but admire the life and career of Ingrid Bergman, one of the greatest actresses representing the Golden Age of Hollywood. Although she came to Hollywood as a young unknown newcomer from Sweden, she quickly rose to stardom, and then she graced the screen with some of the most memorable performances in the movie history. Even after her career took a serious downturn later due to her personal matter, she kept moving on with no regret, and she remained active and graceful even during her later years, which also had a fair share of highlights to distinguish her long, remarkable career.
Stig Björkman’s documentary film “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words” presents a more personal view on Bergman’s life and career mainly through numerous archival records left by Bergman herself. Although there are not many revealing things to intrigue or surprise you especially if you are a Bergman fan, the documentary is worthwhile to watch in its engaging presentation of archival footage and interview clips, and it comes to us as a plain but respectful portrait of an exceptional woman who always tried her best as constantly balancing herself between life and career.
Even when she was very young, Bergman was accustomed to being in front of the camera. She had been taken care of by her father since her mother’s early death, and her father, who died when she was 13, frequently photographed her daughter as a way of showing his fatherly affection. As she grew up, Bergman became determined to be an actress, so she went to the Royal Dramatic Theater School, but then she left the school as starting her movie career. In her first film “Munkbrogreven” (1935), she merely played a small role, but then she became a new star in the town as appearing several Swedish films including “Intermezzo” (1936).
In 1939, she was invited to Hollywood because legendary producer David O. Selznick wanted her for his 1939 remake version of “Intermezzo”, and the rest was history. Although she was unable to speak English at first, Bergman soon learned how to speak English fluently, and she worked with famous Hollywood directors and actors while solidifying her status as another genuine actress from Sweden after Greta Garbo. She got her first Oscar nomination for “For Whom the Bell Tolls” (1943) while also appearing in “Casablanca” (1942), and then she received her first Oscar for “Gaslight” (1944), which was followed by Alfred Hitchcock’s “Spellbound” (1945) and “Notorious” (1946).
But then there came a major upheaval in her life and career. After the critical/commercial failure of “Joan of Arc” (1948), Bergman fell in love with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, and that caused a huge public uproar because Bergman was a married woman with husband and daughter at that time. After divorcing her first husband, Bergman married Rossellini, and she worked with her new husband in five films while having three children between them, but she became an unwelcomed figure in US in the meantime. She did not care a lot about that, but she could not meet her young daughter for a while until her daughter grew up enough.
Pia Lindström, Bergman’s daughter from the first marriage, shows no hard feeling on her mother as remembering that difficult time, and she and her three step-siblings (Roberto Rossellini, Ingrid Rossellini, and, of course, Isabella Rossellini) fondly remember their fun times with their famous mother. While she was divorced from Rossellini in 1957 and married her third husband in the following year, she used to spend her free time with her children whenever she could, and we watch that through her home movie footage clips. She was always warm and caring to her children, and her children, who are wistful at times in their recollection of their loving mother, only wish that she could have spent more time with them.
Around the time when she received the second Oscar for “Anastasia” (1956), Bergman regained her star status as being welcomed by Hollywood again, and she was ready for more challenges while usually focusing on stage works. In “Cactus Flower” (1969), she willingly hurled herself into the contemporary mood of the 1960s, and the result was a surprisingly delightful comic performance to behold. After winning the third Oscar for her supporting turn in “Murder on the Orient Express” (1974), she collaborated with Ingmar Bergman as she had hoped since she met her fellow Swedish at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973, and that led to her superlative performance in “Autumn Sonata” (1978), which turned out to be her last theatrical film before her death in 1982.
Although she was not very well around the 1970s, Bergman maintained her professionalism as usual, and that certainly impressed young actresses around her. Liv Ullmann, who co-starred with Bergman in “Autumn Sonata”, has some amusing anecdotes about working with two Bergmans on the set, and Sigourney Weaver, who met Bergman when they worked in Sir John Gielgud’s Broadway production of “The Constant Wife”, tells us a small touching episode of how Bergman encouraged her to step forward with more confidence for her career.
Trying to present many things during its 2-hour running time, “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words” often feels unfocused and superficial (Bergman’s brief romance with photographer Robert Capa seems important at first but then is quickly left behind for other things to show and tell, for instance). I got the feeling that it is probably more suitable as a DVD/blu-ray special feature for Ingrid Bergman film, but it has plenty of things to watch including old home movie footage clips from Bergman’s childhood years, and Alicia Vikander did a commendable job of reading Bergman’s personal journals and letters (Melinda Kinnaman, Joel Kinnaman’s sister, did the job in case of the English version).
By the way, I remember the YouTube clip of Bergman’s Oscar acceptance speech at the 1975 Academy Awards ceremony, and it is rather a shame that it is not included in this documentary. Surprised by her win, Bergman said her fellow nominee Valentina Cortese, who was nominated for “Day for Night” (1973), deserved the award more than her, and then she sincerely apologized to Cortese, who gladly accepted Bergman’s apology in response. That humble but classy moment shows us a lot about Bergman’s admirable humanity, and “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words” assuredly confirms it to us.