Documentaries about film history don’t seem to have long shelf lives, in theatrical or television distribution. That’s why I’m grateful that the Criterion Collection has released Stig Björkman’s Ingrid Bergman In Her Own Words, which played the film festival circuit and a handful of theaters last year. This strikingly intimate portrait of the luminous leading lady draws on the actress’ letters, diaries, and copious home movies. It features all four of her children, including Isabella Rossellini, the only one to follow in her parent’s footsteps.
We learn about Bergman’s bittersweet childhood and the losses from which she never fully recovered. Once she achieved success, at home and then in Hollywood, Bergman chose career over family time and again. Somehow her children made their peace with it; they loved their mother and knew she loved them. Daughter Pia Lindstrom says that being with her mother was great fun, and the candid footage we see backs her up.
Criterion has augmented the hour-long documentary (narrated by Swedish-born Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander) with an assortment of goodies: excerpts from early Swedish films featuring Bergman, a new interview with director Björkman, deleted and extended scenes, and even more of those enticing 8mm home movies.
There is also a first-rate essay about the star by film scholar and teacher Jeanine Basinger, who acquired Bergman’s archives for Wesleyan University in Connecticut years ago. She describes the actress as “a professional international wanderer, but a wanderer with baggage. And her baggage wasn’t jewelry and clothes and furs—the usual star trappings—but the emotional baggage of memory: little gifts, letters, photographs, remembrances, school papers, locks of hair, valentines. Her true home was never geographical; it was archival. She held things close because she couldn’t always hold people close. Bjorkman understands this Bergman as well as he understands Bergman the actor. His film is not an external documentary but an internal, emotional one…”
I couldn’t agree more. It’s a keeper.