Tuesday, December 29, 2015

INGRID BERGMAN: IN HER OWN WORDS (2015)

Directed by Stig Björkman


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood, CA. December 22, 2015  4:00PM



Early in the captivating documentary, "Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words", the twenty-four year old Swede was summoned to Hollywood by David O. Selznick in 1939. Bergman left behind her doctor husband and new born daughter, Pia in Stockholm to submit to a screen-test for an American remake of her early Swedish box-office hit, "Intermezzo". Although not yet comfortably fluent in English, in the test, the lovely young actress was so incredibly natural and luminous in front of the camera that words were hardly necessary. Bergman won the role she had previously played and went on to become one of the greatest screen performers in cinematic history. Despite pressure to change her name and be remade in to the typical high-glamour movie goddess of the time, Bergman resisted and Selznick was wise enough to realize the simplicity of what she had to offer was enough.

Even with the scandal of an affair with Italian director Roberto Rossellini and their son born out of wedlock (which lead to Bergman even being denounced on the floor of the U.S. Senate) that threatened to derail her thriving film career, the actress managed to eventually overcome the ugly vitriol aimed at her. It was her amazing talent and dazzling beauty that audiences loved and became less concerned about her personal life.

One of Bergman's daughters, the actress Isabella Rossellini had met Swedish film maker and critic Stig Björkman during a film festival and suggested he make a documentary on her mother. With the full cooperation of Bergman's four children including filmed interviews, the director received access to the extensive collection of diaries, letters, photographs and home movies the actress had saved, using them to shape the film around her private and personal thoughts. A Swedish actress with a rising profile in America, Alicia Vikander, who made quite an impression this year with her work in "Ex-Machina" and "The Danish Girl",  reads passages from Bergman's diary in the film. While "In Her Own Words" certainly examines many of Bergman's great screen performances such as "Gaslight", "Anastasia", Hitchcock's "Notorious"and "Spellbound" and her best-known role as Ilsa in "Casablanca", Björkman is much more interested in revealing the serious but fun-loving wife, mother and woman that lived when the cameras were not rolling.

Bergman lost her mother when she was two and her beloved father, who encouraged his daughter to perform and filmed her frequently as child, died when she was a teen. She was then moved around to various family members. This may have lead her to becoming an independent, free-thinking young woman, not very common at the time, with a singular focus on becoming a successful actress. Although she began her life traditionally by marrying Petter Lindström at twenty-one and having her first child a year later, Bergman was determined and ambitious with no desire to let her family stand in the way of her opportunity to act on a global stage. She had found early fame in her native Sweden but when Hollywood came calling, Bergman simply squeezed her family in around her busy filming schedule.

"Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words" displays a Hollywood star with a passionate spirit who broke rules and lived life on her own terms. Now Bergman probably wouldn't be named "mother of the year" as she clearly prioritized her career and love life ahead of her offspring. At one point, while Rossellini was off on a film set with his new partner and Bergman began an affair with her future husband, the kids were living in a house in Italy with nannies caring for them. However, her children insist they would never consider writing a venomous "Mommie Dearest"-style book about their mother. They loved each and every moment they did get to spend with her. Their only regret is that they didn't have more time and had to settle with sharing their movie-star parent with the world.