Director: Stig Björkman
Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Isabella Rossellini, Pia Lindstrom
Running Time: 113 minutes
Release Date: 12 August
For many people, Ingrid Bergman’s name is synonymous with classic Hollywood. Having worked with Alfred Hitchcock, George Cukor and Victor Fleming, Bergman most famously starred as Ilsa Lund in Casablanca, one of the most beloved and enduring films of its era. This new documentary from Stig Björkman shies away from the romance and intrigue of her on-screen roles to focus on the romance and intrigue of Bergman’s own life, a narrative that gives any of these films a run for their money.
Director Stig Björkman’s access to Bergman’s own diaries and correspondence, as well as her 16mm home movies, allows for an astonishingly personal perspective on the woman whose vaulting ambition and quietly intense talent launched her from a jobbing Swedish actress into global stardom in the 1940s. Bergman’s letters and diaries are engagingly presented by Vikander’s voiceover, and reveal a characteristic youthful enthusiasm and playfulness: the famously flirtatious note to Italian director Roberto Rossellini which would ultimately end her first marriage was clearly no fluke. (‘If you need a Swedish actress who … in Italian knows only ‘ti amo,’ I am ready to come and make a film with you.’)
Bergman, whose public image had been of the ‘Nordic natural’, who had garned acclaim for playing ingenues, nuns, and Joan of Arc, was famously denounced by both the Vatican and the US senate as an ‘instrument of evil’ for leaving her husband (and daughter) for Rossellini after becoming pregnant with his child in 1950. The film deals with the fallout and effect, not solely on her career, but on her as an individual. Bergman’s story tells us as much about the culture of the time as it does her own unique experience, how her agency as a woman was challenged by marriage, motherhood, family, as well as conservative conventions of the church and state. She is so well-realised as an individual in this documentary, that it’s easy to grasp how fitting into any of these roles and institutions threatened or restricted her own identity.
In this regard, the film is never unkind, but does hint at fissures between Bergman’s selfhood and the people in her life, her rootlessness hitting close to ruthlessness at times. In deviating from the ‘source material’, interviews conducted by Björkman with her children are affectionate, but frequently slip into a deeper level of critical poignancy; regretting her absence in life as much as in death. Pia Lindstrom, separated from her mother for the best part of 15 years due to the Rossellini affair, longs to have had ‘more of her’, a sentiment echoed by the Rossellini children; and a moment in which Isotta Rossellini struggles with the selfishness of Bergman’s late-in-life statement that she has no regrets is truly devastating.
Even if you’re familiar with Ingrid Bergman and the roles, on- and off- screen, which defined her life, this is a well-crafted and lovingly-told story of a righteous icon. Be it grainy 1950s footage shot by Ingrid on Stromboli, or Isabella Rossellini’s high-definition smile echoing her mother’s, Björkman delivers Bergman not only in her own words, but in her own image – and it’s a joy to behold.