Hollywood charm and charisma just doesn’t exist the way it did in the Golden Age of Cinema. The “It” Factor, that certain something that turns a simple screen test into an experience akin to finding cinematic gold, is now often replaced or loosely recreated through physical enhancements, as if Botox or a boob job is all anyone needs to make it big on the silver screen.
But Ingrid Bergman certainly had the beauty and the charm to allow her to make it to Hollywood – and even international – Legendary status, and in the documentary Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (given its Australian premiere screening during this year’s Scandinavian Film Festival), by Swedish director Stig Bjorkman, we are given an intimate look at the her life, from her lonely childhood in Swedish, to her success in Hollywood, through her controversial relationship with married film director Roberto Rossellini and more. These insights are so rare and candid – they’re usually only reserved for close family and friends.
Viewing this documentary isn’t like listening to Bergman’s biography and career highlights read via narration over a few clips of her films cobbled together, like something you could have found out yourself if you had looked up her Wikipedia entry. Instead, it really is Bergman in her own words, as Stig Bjorkman is given access to her diaries, her letters to her closest friends, private home movies and interviews with her children. It’s a much more well-rounded and interesting look at a Hollywood icon, but without any of the mean-spirited confessions or insights you might expect to find in an “Access Hollywood” special.
So how does Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words portray Ingrid Bergman? Surprisingly, very human, thanks to the diary entries included in the film. We know that Bergman had an incredible sense of adventure, of feeling like she wanted more from her life that what her world in Sweden could give her. We know she loved her career as a film actress, and that she took great lengths to fulfil her dreams. We also know that domesticity did not sit well with her, and she preferred the carefree life of an artist.
Interviews with her children also show us that whilst Bergman loved her children dearly (she had three, including actress Isabella Rossellini), she wasn’t traditionally maternal. This is where the film really shines, because it could have easily been about Bergman’s life as an actress, and her relationships with her leading men (scandals included), but instead it allows the viewer an insight into her sometimes less-than-stellar relationships with her family (particularly her eldest, Pia Lindstrom), without it descending into a sordid account of life with a distant and fame-hungry Hollywood Mother. This is not a Postcards from the Edge kind of story.
The documentary doesn’t skim over Bergman’s relationships with her first and second husbands, but does explain how she came to be with them. It’s the film’s standout feature, this emphasis on helping the viewer understand Bergman’s choices.
Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words is a great film about a cinema legend that, thanks to her own admissions and that of her family, was a flawed yet incredibly strong woman, one worth knowing and certainly one worth celebrating.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words was the closing film of the Scandinavian Film Festival. For more details head to: http://www.