In his new documentary “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words,” acclaimed Swedish filmmaker Stig Bjorkman, who has chronicled the life and work of Woody Allen, Ingmar Bergman and Lars von Trier, turns his attention to his country’s most famous actress. This fascinating film tells the life story of this three-time Oscar champ using excerpts from her diaries and correspondence and incorporates a treasure trove of home movies that date from the time she was three and is seen at her mother’s graveside.
For Bjorkman, this passion project four years in the making began with a chance meeting with Isabella Rosellini, who was chairing the 2011 Berlin film festival jury. “I was there to talk about Ingmar Bergman and was out for dinner with one of his favorite actresses, Harriet Andersson, who Isabella knows. She joined us and as we were talking she turned to me and said, ‘Let’s make a film about Mama.'”
Only when Rosellini’s twin sister Isotta and older brother Roberto as well as Pia Lindstrom, Ingrid’s daughter from her first marriage, consented to be interviewed did Bjorkman proceed. The four children spoke candidly of their relationships, both good and bad, with their mother but placed no restrictions on the the film. Rather, they have embraced this warts and all portrayal of Bergman.
Alicia Vikander, who could well win an Oscar this year for “The Danish Girl,” gives voice to the entries in Bergman’s diary. As Bjorkman explains she came to the project via Andersson as well who had been on a jury to pick a rising Swedish star to fete at the 2011 Berlin filmfest.
While Bjorkman focuses primarily on her personal life, he includes two actresses who had worked with Bergman: Sigourney Weaver, who made her Broadway debut in a 1975 revival of Somerset Maugham‘s “The Constant Wife” and Liv Ullman, who played opposite Bergman in 1978’s “Autumn Sonata” which earned the latter the last of her seven Oscar nominations.
And he includes footage of the first two of Bergman’s three Oscar wins, both for Best Actress: “Gaslight” in 1944 when she is presented with the prize by the previous year’s champ Jennifer Jones (“The Song of Bernadette”) and “Anastasia” in 1956 when a stage appearance in Paris prevents her from attending and her “Notorious” co-star Cary Grant graciously accepts on her behalf. Bjorkman would have loved to include her suprise win in 1974 for her featured turn in “Murder on the Orient Express” when she apologizes to rival nominee Valentina Cortese (“Day for Night”) but he had to make judicious cuts to the final edit.
Conceived as a celebration of her centennial, it debuted at the Cannes film festival in May and received special mention from the jury. In late August, Stina Gardell, the savvy producer of the documentary rented out a theater at the Royal Dramatic Academy in Stockholm to showcase this film about the one-time student who left, over the objections of her teachers, to pursue a career in film. And now it is playing for one week in New York as part of its qualifying run for the Oscars (it will unspool in LA in December).
One of the academy rules dictates that a documentary feature must be reviewed in either the Los Angeles or New York Times. Manohla Dargis, chief film critic for the latter, called the film “cinephile catnip.” As she notes, “for those who love Bergman, the behind-the-scenes images — many taken by her — are particularly delightful for the glimpses they offer of both her professional life (Hitchcock tooling around in a backyard) and personal (notably, the charming home movies of her life with her second husband, the Italian director Roberto Rossellini).”
Other critics echoed her sentiments in their rave reviews.
Joe Morgenstern (Wall Street Journal): “Some of the most enchanting footage was shot by Bergman herself, or by friends and family filming her with the 16mm camera she liked to carry wherever she went. Still, nothing in Stig Bjorkman’s invaluable documentary can match the serene, silent images of Bergman’s first Hollywood screen test.”
Deborah Young (Hollywood Reporter): “Bjorkman leaves behind the image of a uniquely strong, independent woman whose relaxed modernity was way ahead of its time.”
Jay Weissberg (Variety): “The exceptional home movies, many shot by Bergman herself, are an unending source of pleasure, visually reinforcing her children’s warm-hearted reminiscences: Their mother was fun to be around.”
Below: the trailer for “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words”