Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words has the good fortune to draw upon the wealth of material that Bergman herself left behind. The result is an expansive survey of her private life that merely scratches the surface of her canon of film work.
This Swedish documentary really is in her own words. Excerpts are read from the diaries Bergman kept from childhood, as well as interviews she carried out throughout her career. She also spent a great deal of time behind a movie camera. Bergman was mad keen on filming everything around her, which leads one to reflect that if she were around today, in an era that provides slightly more opportunities for women, perhaps she would be a film director.
She certainly had a great attraction for film directors. Her father was a photographer, and from a very early age she was always being filmed, and felt very comfortable in front of a camera. Her four children were all heavily involved in the making of this documentary, and the eldest, Pia, theorises that to Ingrid, perhaps acting was a way of gaining people’s attention and even their love. She had lost her mother at a very early age, so her father meant everything to her, and a lot of their interactions were channeled through a movie camera.
The attraction to film directors, which was such a large part of her success when she left Sweden for Hollywood to star in such films as Casablanca and Gaslight, spilled over into her personal life, when she infamously left her first husband and married filmmaker Roberto Rossellini.
Her three children to Rossellini have varying accounts of what it was like to have a mother who, by and large, put her career before her family, something which was unheard of back in the 1940s and 50s.
This is a theme that the documentary keeps returning to. Her decisions to spend time away from her children, and in fact to move from one country to another, from Sweden, to America, to Italy, then France and finally back to Sweden. Her films are chronicled too, but only in the most cursory manner.
The few reflections on her movies include an interesting account of her filming Rossellini’s Journey to Italy, which she had a hard time with because it called on her to improvise, something she was very uncomfortable doing. There were equally difficult moments on the set of Autumn Sonata, directed by her legendary countryman Ingmar Bergman (who she’s not related to).
For the most part, this is a film about the personal life of Ingrid Bergman, and it’s one she gets to tell in the first person, albeit with an additional perspective from her kids. As such, it’s a fairly comprehensive study of a strikingly independent woman with an adventurous spirit, albeit one who was surprisingly shy when she didn’t have a script to work with.
Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words is currently screening exclusively at ACMI
Richard Leathem @dickiegee