Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words

Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words
(Jag är Ingrid)
Director: Stig Björkman
Screenplay: Stig Björkman, Dominika Daubenbüchel, Stina Gardell
Features: Ingrid Bergman, Pia Lindström, Roberto Rossellini, Ingrid Rossellini, Isabella Rossellini, Fiorella Mariani, Liv Ullmann, Sigourney Weaver, Jeanine Basinger, Alicia Vikander
MPAA Rating: NR
Year of Release: 2015
Country: Sweden
Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words Criterion Collection Blu-ray
Ingrid Bergman in Her Own WordsThe title of Stig Björkman’s engrossing documentary Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words is a telling indication of what makes the film special and distinct from so many other films about Hollywood icons, both good and bad. Rather than being filtered through the words and interpretations of others, which is so often the case with such films, the great actress is presented largely through her own extensive documentation of her life—not just letters and diary entries, but also photographs and 8mm and 16mm home movies. While she made her living and became internationally famous being in front of the camera, Ingrid Bergman was just as comfortable behind it, a legacy she inherited from her photographer father, which led her to document her life. The film’s Swedish title Jag är Ingrid, which translates as I am Ingrid, is even more telling in this regard, as it suggests a first-person approach that allows Bergman’s life to unfold through her own unfiltered voice (for which Swedish actress Alicia Vikander does a fine stand-in).

The film thankfully steers away from a conventional linear narrative, instead jumping around Bergman’s life thematically, connecting different periods in her life to others in a way that feels organic and natural. It begins with a letter in which she pleads with God for the health of her beloved father, who would eventually die when she was 14 (she had already lost her mother at the tender age 2, which means she had no real memories of having one). This establishes a sense of Bergman being fundamentally alone in the world, which makes her subsequent relationships and marriages feel all of the more poignant in their attempt to create the sense of stability and family that she had lost so early in her life.

Yet, she is never made out to be a victim, but rather an assured, confident young woman who went after what she wanted and had few regrets. This helps account for the controversy that swirled around her in the late 1940s when she left her husband, Dr. Petter Aron Lindström, for Italian neorealist director Roberto Rossellini, in the process giving up much of her time with her daughter Pia (little mention is made of her third marriage to theatre producer Lars Schmidt, which lasted for 20 years). She was branded an adulteress and an unfit mother, to the point of being denounced on the floor of Congress—a firestorm that was fueled even more by her refusal to express regret or apologize. The fact that she was able to maintain her career and even to flourish (she won her second of three Oscars in 1957 for Anastasia, just a few years after her trilogy of films with Rossellini was largely rejected due to the bad will she had accumulated), is testament to both her perseverance and the shifting times.

Björkman, a veteran film critic, scholar, and filmmaker who has already made well-received documentaries about Ingmar Bergman (2012’s Fanny, Alexander & jag) and Lars von Trier (1997’s Tranceformer: A Portrait of Lars von Trier), was approached by Bergman’s daughter, the actress Isabella Rossellini, to produce a film to commemorate what would have been the Bergman’s 100th birthday (she was born in 1916 and passed away in 1982 at age 67 from lymphoma). Björkman was given complete access to Bergman’s extensive archive (apparently, she was a pack-rat who kept everything despite moving constantly all over the world), including her home movies, letters to various friend and confidants, and diaries, as well as assorted ephemera such as her passports and school grade cards.

At times, Björkman brings in others to speak about their experiences with Bergman, including her four children (Pia Lindström, Roberto Rossellini, and twins Ingrid and Isabella Rossellini); actresses Liv Ullmann and Sigourney Weaver, who worked with her on screen and stage, respectively; and Jeanine Basinger, a film scholar who oversees Bergman’s papers at Wesleyan University. Out of these materials and others, including archival footage of various television interviews, an early screen test for David O. Selznick that offers irrefutable proof that she was destined for stardom, and press photographs and clips from her films, both beloved (1942’s Casablanca) and obscure (1935’s Munkbrogreven, her major screen debut), Björkman and editor Dominika Daubenbüchel (Fanny, Alexander & jag) have fashioned an impressive and intimate portrait of an immensely complicated artist. Even if the film leans toward the hagiographic at times, it still feels enormously genuine and insightful, as if Bergman herself were directing it from the great beyond. The best thing I can say about it is that I will never see Bergman—someone who I had thought was quite familiar at this point—the same way again.

Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words Criterion Collection Blu-ray

Aspect Ratio1.78:1
AudioSwedish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround
Subtitles English
Supplements
  • Video interview with director Stig Björkman
  • Selection of 8mm home movies shot by Bergman in the 1930s
  • Two deleted scenes
  • Extended scenes
  • Clip from the 1932 film Landskamp
  • Outtakes from the 1936 film On the Sunny Side
  • Music video for Eva Dahlgren’s “The Movie About Us”
  • Trailer
  • Essay by film scholar Jeanine Basinger
  • DistributorThe Criterion Collection
    SRP$39.95
    Release DateAugust 16, 2016

    VIDEO & AUDIO
    Criterion’s high-definition presentation of Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words, which was supervised by director Stig Björkman, is a direct digital port, as the entire film was completed in a digital workflow. As a film built primarily from archival sources, the original materials from which the film was assembled run the gamut, from 8mm and 16mm home movies from Bergman’s archives, to scans of photographs, to new interview footage that was shot in Super 35mm HD. All of the archival footage was scanned in 4K and digitally restored, which accounts for it looking so good. I was duly impressed with the visual quality of the 8mm home movie footage from 60 years ago, as there are virtually no signs of wear and damage and colors looked strong and vibrant while also maintaining the inherent look of the original medium (meaning there is plenty of film grain in evidence). The soundtrack, which was mastered from the original digital audio master files, is presented in DTS-HD 5.1 surround and sounds excellent, especially Michael Nyman’s gentle piano score.
    SUPPLEMENTS
    In terms of supplements, Criterion’s Blu-ray includes a new 18-minute video interview with director Stig Björkman and 6 minutes of silent 8mm home movies shot by Bergman in the 1930s, clips from which were used in the film. There are two deleted scenes, one of which shows Bergman’s daughters reading an essay she wrote at age 17 and the other of which is an interview with film historian and Bergman scholar Rosario Tronnolone, as well as extended versions of scenes featuring interviews with Sigourney Weaver and Liv Ullmann and Bergman’s daughter Isabella Rossellini with the three Rossellini siblings. From the archives we have a 34-second clip from the 1932 film Landskamp, which features Bergman in her first screen role as a girl standing in line, and 4 minutes of outtakes from the 1936 film On the Sunny Side (På solsidan), which features Bergman in one of her first major starring roles. Lastly, the disc includes a music video for Eva Dahlgren’s “The Movie About Us,” which is included on the film’s soundtrack, and a trailer. The insert fold-out has an essay by film scholar Jeanine Basinger, who was the first to curate the Bergman archive at Wesleyan and appears as an interviewee in the film.

    Copyright ©2016 James Kendrick

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    All images copyright © The Criterion Collection

    Overall Rating: (3.5)




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