The Woman Who Conquered the World

Swedish director Stig Björkman’s documentary Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (Jag är Ingrid in Swedish) is a stunning take on the world-famous Swedish actress’s life. She was – and still is – a phenomenon, indeed. Originally from Sweden, she built an international career and starred in films directed by Michael Curtiz, Alfred Hitchcock, Roberto Rossellini and Ingmar Bergman, for instance. This is her story from her perspective.

Even though the film Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words is nearly two hours long, it feels still too short to fully explore the actress’s world and the way in which she saw it – and through her audiovisual material we can see it, too. The documentary takes advantage of a great diversity of archival footage including Ingrid’s diaries and personal belongings such as photos and short videos, etc. Besides the relatively old materials, interviews with Ingrid’s children comprise the solid foundation of the film. Pia Lindström, Roberto Rossellini, Isabella Rossellini and Ingrid Rossellini share stories about their mother and reflect on her persona.

These conversations also demonstrate how multicultural Ingrid’s life was. For instance, it seems that her daughter Ingrid and son Renato find it more comfortable to speak Italian than English while being interviewed. This is, of course, understandable, since they grew up in Italy with their father, although they did visit their mum regularly in Paris. As it happened before with her eldest daughter Pia, Ingrid left her three younger children behind, and moved to France to work in theatre. Whereas many in her time condemned these two moves of hers, her children are talking about these events naturally and without any judgement at all. Their love for their mum shines through their words, but they are fully aware of their mother’s imperfection.

That makes the film so powerful, namely the real Ingrid Bergman with all her flaws – at least according to society’s standards – is shown on screen. She is definitely not pictured as a perfect woman, but beyond doubt as a confident and determined one, who was able to conquer the entire world with her talent and charm. The actress also reflected on her public image and didn’t really understand why others – especially the media – were so interested in her private life. As it is explained in the film, she was way ahead of her time, and her working style distinguished her from the other actresses of her time. She was truly a modern woman in an old-fashioned industry where the men set the rules, and women’s role was chiefly downgraded or deleted from the history of cinema.

Due to the premise of the film and the material used to make the film, the documentary doesn’t have the capacity to address (all) the issues women faced during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Nonetheless, it contributes to the ongoing conversation about the difficulties women still need to encounter in the film industry throughout the world – whether that influenced the making of the film or not. Veteran documentary film-maker Stig Björkman, who also interviewed Ingrid Bergman among others, has chosen a holistic approach instead of focusing too much on one sequence of Bergman’s life. He simply follows a linear timeline and presents all the significant moments through the perfect blend of interviews, still photos, videos, and diary entries interpreted by Swedish Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander.

In a way, Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words, just as the title itself suggests, is a documentary created by Ingrid Bergman. She might have selected other elements of her personal archive to guide us through her life, but we would still feel the void and want more of her…

Profile: Ingrid Bergman

Ingrid Bergman is a Swedish actress who spent most of her extensive career abroad, both in Hollywood and Paris. She grew up in Stockholm and, although orphaned at the age of thirteen, was well cared for. After appearing in her first film as an extra at the age of sixteen, she was accepted into the Royal Dramatic Theatre School in Stockholm. She soon dropped out, and instead went on to appear in film. She was established as a domestic star by the time she was twenty-one, due to the freshness and energetic professionalism she brought to the screen. After her role in the Swedish film Intermezzo (1936), she was spotted by Kay Brown, Hollywood producer David O. Selznick’s agent. After remaking Intermezzo in the United States in 1939, Bergman became a big star.

During the 1940s, Bergman was among Hollywood’s most noticeable and sought-after female personalities, and she starred in a number of iconic films, including Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca (1942), George Cukor’s Gaslight (1944), and Alfred Hitchcock’s Notorious (1946). Later on, she also appeared in Italian films directed by her second husband, Roberto Rossellini. The rest of Bergman’s career only sporadically touched upon the Swedish and Scandinavian film context. Bergman’s last appearance in a theatrical feature film was in Ingmar Bergman’s Autumn Sonata, show in Norway in 1977, and released the following year. Ingmar Bergman had specifically tailored the role with very autobiographical overtones.

Barbara Majsa

Barbara is a journalist, editor and film critic. She usually does interviews with film-makers, artists, designers, and writes about cinema, design and books.