Greetings again from the darkness. A seven time Oscar nominee and three time winner. One of the best known and most beloved actresses of all-time. Fifty year acting career. Died at age 67, mere weeks after her final performance. These are all bullet points to highlight Ingrid Bergman, the cinematic icon. However, documentarian (and fellow Swede) Stig Bjorkman pays little attention to the icon, and instead focuses on the woman.
What sets this apart from many biographical portraits is Bjorkman’s access to Bergman’s diaries, journals, personal letters, photos, home videos, and most importantly, interviews with her four children: Pia Lindstrom, Roberto Rossellini, and twins Isabella and Ingrid Rossellini. It’s a treasure trove of memories, documentation and insight into a woman who lived life on her own terms … often in direct opposition to what societal norms dictate. The film neither defends nor celebrates her free spirit; it simply reports it and allows us to sit in judgment, should we be so inclined.
One of the best clips is young Ingrid’s screen test where her natural beauty radiates on screen, and her expressive eyes make it obvious why David O Selznick recognized her star quality. But there are numerous other clips and photographs which show her mostly involved with her family … one of her husbands and some combination of her kids. Not fitting into the typical “motherly” box, Ingrid spent an enormous amount of time away from her kids as they were growing up. She clearly loved them very much, as evidenced by the words in her diaries and letters, and the visuals from their time together. And the interviews with her children today make it obvious they viewed her as a fun friend, rather than the nurturing mom.
Another aspect that is crystal clear is the ambition and drive possessed by Ingrid. She even states “no one can have everything”, and her actions and words make it obvious that acting was what brought her to life – whether on screen or on stage. It never took long on the home front for her to feel the pull of her true adventurous nature, and soon enough she was back on a movie set … leaving the kids behind.
Specifics of her movie career are mostly glossed over. Casablanca has a quick segment, as does her time with Alfred Hitchcock. Instead, we get a broad perspective of the scandal that rocked the movie world … a pregnant Ingrid left her first husband (Petter Lindstrom) for her director-lover Roberto Rossellini. For the times, this was extreme impropriety and there were even boycotts of her films. No place was harder on her than the United States. Absolutely unapologetic and without remorse, Ingrid took her career to Europe. Ingrid and Roberto had three kids together, and since history has a way of repeating itself, it was only a matter of time before Roberto was with his pregnant girlfriend in India, and Ingrid moved on to producer Lars Schmidt (and his private island).
The most impact from the timeline comes courtesy of the four adult children as they recall the extended times away from their mother, followed by memorable and fun stints together. Of course, they have each had many years to come to terms with a mother who frequently chose pursuing her career dreams to spending time with them. Imagine having a mother who said “I belong more to the make-believe world of theatre and film”. It can make you tough and independent, or it can have the opposite effect. We hear each of them discuss.
This is the wrong place to look for a career retrospective of Ingrid Bergman the actress, but it’s an intimate and fascinating look at a woman who understood what was important to her, and refused to be ruled by societal expectations. Young Swedish actress Alicia Vikander provides voice-over for much of Ingrid’s written word, but it’s Ms. Bergman’s actions and the insight from Pia, Roberto, Isabella and Ingrid that complete the full portrait of a most unusual woman. Ms. Bergman died in 1982 (age 67), just weeks after her final role in the TV movie “A Woman Called Golda”… a fitting portrait of another woman who lived life by her own rules.
The film played at the NYFF and Rialto Pictures will be opening the film theatrically in New York on November 13th and LA on December 11th.