“I am Ingrid. This is my story.” Without any air of superiority these straightforward intentions rather understate the life less ordinary laid bare during Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words. They do reflect, however, the sincere humility and honesty of a subject who is equally as captivating in a biographical documentary charting her own life as she was over the course of a glittering career. Via Alicia Vikander’s softly spoken narration we are very soon on first name terms with one of world cinema’s all-time leading ladies. Those looking for a by-the-numbers rundown of Bergman’s greatest hits – Casablanca, Joan of Arc, Notorious, Journey to Italy – may rise an eyebrow at the limited time afforded them.
For director Stig Björkman, the focus lies elsewhere. A strikingly candid presentation of the great Swedish actress, In Her Own Words paints a detailed portrait of a star whose notoriety on and off the screen orbited overwhelming popularity, critical acclaim and crushing infamy in equal measure. Peaking behind the stage door to a turbulent home life, this is a warts-and-all documentary that seeks not to place Bergman on a pedestal, nor gloss over the innumerable controversies of decades spent in the public eye. In its early stages, a demure, fresh faced newcomer sits before a camera for her first Hollywood screen test. A clapperboard clacks in the foreground with the words ‘No makeup, no lip rouge’ scrawled in chalk. Björkman demonstrates a similar aversion to pretence or artifice in opening Pandora’s box.
Though fans will delight in the treasure trove of 16mm footage, photographs, and a wealth of anecdotal testimony from family and peers, the unflinching focus on Bergman’s affairs and absentee parenting is a bold step that does surprise. Respect and admiration for her work and carefree nature is in plentiful supply but this is not an exclusively glowing retrospective. Reported to be the impetus behind the production, Isabella Rossellini – daughter to Bergman and Roberto Rossellini – appears alongside her siblings. They speak in loving terms of their mother but there is a palpable sense of regret and persistent disappointment at how little time they were able to spend with her.
Pia Lindström, Bergman’s eldest daughter from her first marriage, does much scoffing and shrugging of shoulders when speaking of how far down the pecking order she felt compared to her mother’s filming schedule. These interviews leave an unexpected, but necessarily bitter taste to contrast the red carpets and flashing of bulbs. It is a pity that the contemplative nature of the first half – read by Vikander from Bergman’s diaries and correspondence – dissipates. A shift from the great actress speaking ‘in her own words’ to external voices and scandalous newspaper headlines relinquishes the absorbing, deeply personal and confessional tone and the film rather labours towards its conclusion.
Matthew Anderson | @behind_theseens