Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words
Few actresses have had as tumultuous a life and career as the unprecedented Ingrid Bergman (1915-1982). She was a bona fide movie star in her native Sweden until she left for the promise of Hollywood in her mid-twenties, was a film icon by the end of the 1940s until she was essentially blacklisted following the discovery of her affair with Roberto Rossellini, spent most of the 1950s making arthouse pictures and living in exile, made a successful comeback in the latter part of the decade with her Oscar-winning turn in Anastasia, graced the theater with her presence for most of the 1960s, explosively returned to cinema in the 1970s, and died a legend in 1982 of breast cancer at the age of sixty-seven.
She was also married three times, had four children, could speak and convincingly act in five different languages, and rarely lived in the same country for more than a decade. She lost almost all her closest family members before she turned fourteen to various illnesses. She was painfully shy but felt alive when in front of the camera. She obsessively took pictures and Super 8s to ensure her familial memories never be forgotten. She was never without a diary, and she never forgot to write letters to the friends she left behind in Sweden. She remained humble throughout her career. And she never lost her remarkable moxie for her children, for her profession, and for life itself.
Ingrid Bergman (best known for her performances in 1942’s Casablanca, 1944’s Gaslight, and 1946’s Notorious) was a woman ahead of her time, a modern being never to be tied down and never one to deny herself of the thrill of a new opportunity, of a life-changing risk. As we watch 2015’s In Her Own Words, released to coincide with the one-hundredth birthday of the actress, we see Bergman, an indelible symbol of the Hollywood Golden Age, in an entirely different light. Though we might have been aware of the roller coasters of her personal life and though we might have recognized her career as being one of the most idiosyncratic in film history, she becomes an emblem of abiding courageousness and flawed femininity that we had previously only vaguely seen her as before. Here is a woman born in a time where cultural normalities regarding marriage and work were set in stone, unbudging to a point in which challenging them could spell out social and professional doom, and yet didn’t care about how people perceived her. Here is a woman who followed her heart more than she followed her head, and lived an unconventionally exciting life as a result of her inability to conform.
In its intimate capturing of her life, Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words, immaculately directed by Stig Björkman, is a quintessential biographical documentary. Like last year’s stirring Amy, which certainly ranks among the finest of its kind, it is apprehensive toward the use of talking heads doing their best recollections, preferring to utilize incredibly personal archival footage and diaristic voiceover (performed beautifully by this generation’s Bergman, Alicia Vikander) for its methods of storytelling. Wisely, memories are strictly shared by Bergman’s children (who, much as they adore their mother, do not hide their misgivings toward her recurring decision to prioritize work over family) and the occasional coworker (from Liv Ullmann to Sigourney Weaver).
Because this is a documentary disinterested by the notion of painting a portrait of someone else’s idea of what Ingrid Bergman was. More riveting is the idea of trying to objectively characterize this woman for who she was, warts and all. Fortunately, she’s an exceptional creation, for all her fears, desires, neuroses, and ambitions. She may have left us nearly thirty-five years ago, but her legacy remains firmly intact. Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words is a cause for celebration. A