‘Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words’: Cannes Review

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival


An inspiring celebrity bio with a happy ending 

An intimate portrait of the luminous diva is told through her diary and family members

One of Hollywood’s most radiant and beloved European imports, Ingrid Bergman seems more of an icon with every passing year; she is, in fact, the poster girl of Cannes 2015 and her dazzling smile appears more modern than ever. The new documentary Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words (Jag ar Ingrid) by Swedish writer, director and film critic Stig Bjorkman is celebratory and revelatory, making extensive use of Bergman’s own diaries, personal pictures, home movies, and family members (it was daughter Isabella Rossellini who first suggested he make the film.) The portrait that emerges is intimate — perhaps too intimate for film lovers who might have preferred to hear more about the star’s working methods, and fewer details about her husbands and kids. But as Isabella remarks a propos of her mother’s letters, there is surprisingly little in them about her professional life. They’re all about her children.

This is perhaps how Bergman saw herself, with many inserts of her home movies and photographs she took with her numerous cameras. A romantic score by Michael Nyman completes this very appealing if non-critical bio.

Though Bergman died of breast cancer in 1982 on her 67th birthday, there are still many stories to be told about her charmed life, which began badly in Sweden with the early deaths of her parents. Popular at school but not a very good student, Ingrid quickly found her calling on the Swedish stage and film world. At 24, when Hollywood beckoned, she left her husband Petter Lindstrom and small daughter Pia behind to shoot an American remake of her Swedish hit Intermezzo. These early years of her life are documented in photos that sparkle with her youth and natural beauty, and it is no wonder she was spotted by Hollywood talent scout Kay Brown, who became her agent.

In Los Angeles, she first lived at the home of producer David O. Selznick and his wife, who became a close friend. It’s somewhat disappointing to find her ten years in Hollywood brushed over with such quick strokes in the film. Classic films like Gaslight (which earned her a first Academy Award for best actress), For Whom the Bell Tolls and the legendary Casablanca are given short shrift, while the three films directed by Alfred Hitchcock in the late Forties — Spellbound, Notorious and Under Capricorn — are barely mentioned. The only film from this period that earns a little more screen time is Joan of Arc, as it illustrates a recurrent interest of Bergman’s (she also played the saint in a stage play.)

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But the film is far more focused on Bergman the woman, and it loses no chance to illuminate the independence and courage she showed in her private life. When she left Hollywood to make Stromboli with Italian director Roberto Rossellini, love blossomed in full view of the paparazzi. Both are married, and the world-wide scandal that ensued came close to destroying her career. Their son, Roberto was born before their divorces; twin girls Isabella and Ingrid Isotta followed — along with four more Rossellini movies which are barely touched upon, though today these box office disasters have all been critically reevaluated.

Having full access to Bergman’s children, including Pia Lindstrom and Roberto Rossellini, Bjorkman films family anecdotes, fleshing out Bergman's attitude toward them and — unique for the period — her long-distance mothering. At one point, while Rossellini is in India with his next wife Sonali Das Gupta and Ingrid is working in Paris with her soon-to-be next husband Lars Schmidt, the kids live together in Italy in a kinder-house furnished just for them.

Whatever judgment the viewer makes on Bergman’s free-wheeling, non-conformist maternal lifestyle, there can be no doubt about her determination and professional commitment. Ending with her last screen appearance in Autumn Sonata, directed by Ingmar Bergman in 1978, Bjorkman  leaves behind the image of a uniquely strong, independent woman whose relaxed modernity was way ahead of its time. As Isabella concludes, "She was just too much fun to be with."


Production company: Mantaray Film
Isabella Rossellini, Ingrid Rossellini, Roberto Rossellini, Pia Lindstrom, Fiorella Mariani, Liv Ullmann, Sigourney Weaver, Jeanine Basinger
Stig Bjorkman
Stig Bjorkman, Stina Gardell, Dominika Daubenbuchel
Producer: Stina Gardell
Director of photography: Eva Dahlgren
Editor: Dominika Daubenbuchel
Music: Michael Nyman
Sales Agent: Trust Nordisk
No rating, 114 minutes