Picturing Ingrid

Stig Björkman and Stina Gardell on Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Producer Stina Gardell with Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words director Stig Björkman
Producer Stina Gardell with Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words director Stig Björkman Photo: Anne-Katrin Titze

Ingrid Bergman won Oscars for George Cukor's Gaslight, Anatole Litvak's Anastasia and Murder On The Orient Express, directed by Sidney Lumet. In Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (Jag är Ingrid), Stig Björkman's warmhearted and elaborate documentary about the star, her four children, Pia Lindström, Isabella Rossellini, Ingrid Rossellini, and Roberto Rossellini as well as colleagues Liv Ullmann and Sigourney Weaver share their memories about the mother, the woman, who never threw anything away. Alicia Vikander's alluring voiceover, Bergman's luminous face - and the camera's love for it - are a perfect match.

At Payard on Houston Street, the director and Stina Gardell joined me to discuss Ingrid Bergman, her children, Michael Nyman, Liv Ullmann relating an Ingmar Bergman Autumn Sonata moment, Eva Dahlgren and praise from Arnaud Desplechin.

Alicia Vikander reading Ingrid Bergman:
Alicia Vikander reading Ingrid Bergman: "the feeling must be like an inner monologue."

For Ingrid Bergman, after she lost her own mother as an infant and her beloved father at age 13, photographs and home movies took the place of family. Super-8 and 16mm footage Bergman shot over the years of her private life are accompanied by letters and diary entries read by Vikander. The conflict of being a mother and having a successful acting career in movies dominates the present-day interviews with her children.

The film had its World Premiere at the Cannes Film Festival and was a selection in the Spotlight on Documentary category of the 53rd New York Film Festival. On Friday, November 13, the opening night in New York at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, I will be moderating a post screening discussion with the director and Pia Lindström following the 7:00pm screening.

Anne-Katrin Titze: You have very interesting footage of [Ingmar] Bergman with Ingrid Bergman in this film. The glances between them! Tell me about the title. The English title is Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words. But it's not only words - it is in her own image, mostly. It's so visual - you get even more from her facial expressions than from her words. The Swedish title is different.

Stig Björkman: It's I am Ingrid. When the film was going to be shown at Cannes, we had to deliver a title and Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words was our working title and we hadn't decided on our final title. So we sent that and we thought we can change it, but they had already put it in the program. So we kept that for whoever wants to have that. In Sweden and elsewhere it's called I Am Ingrid [Jag är Ingrid].

Ingrid Bergman:
Ingrid Bergman: "She is really a modern filmmaker, letting this camera walk around …"

AKT: For the voiceover of Ingrid, you picked Alicia Vikander. For someone who doesn't speak Swedish, it matched perfectly. Almost immediately, I forgot completely that it isn't Ingrid reading from her diaries - although I had spoken to Alicia Vikander in person and interviewed her for Testament of Youth earlier this year. How did you choose her?

Stig: I know Alicia since way back, since her first Swedish film -To This Which is Beautiful [Pure] is the Swedish title. In a way, she's the new Ingrid Bergman.

AKT: Do their voices sound alike for Swedish audiences? Is it the same accent?

Stina Gardell: In the beginning, she tried to play the role of Ingrid when she was reading. But we realized, all of us, including Alicia, that the feeling must be like an inner monologue. Almost neutral, not putting in too much acting. Alicia - she is the best one because she has this Hollywood career but she also has that something in her voice. A small touch of…

AKT: A frog in her throat, something raspy?

Stina: Yeah, it's a little bit similar in some way. It was also to attract more of the younger audiences as well. It's not the old lady telling her story, but the young one. For us the image was - it is Ingrid telling her story when she is standing on the terrace in Italy. It's 1949 or something. That is the age we had in mind when she is telling "I am Ingrid".

Ingrid Bergman:
Ingrid Bergman: "she was having a correspondence with her best friends over the years …"

AKT: You begin with April 1928 - the diary entry "May God help Dad," which is such a strong beginning. Only later do you go back to her mother dying when she was three. Why that point in time?

Stig: It's crucial, because everybody has died from her. The mother already died before she was three, now the father just died and she had a grandparent die and her best friend, a young girl. So it's just such a sad and crucial moment in her life that I wanted to start with that.

AKT: It was a brave choice. You could have started with Cary Grant accepting the Oscar for her...

Stina: Or the scandal!

AKT: Or the scandal, which is what people know. Instead you opt for the unknown.

Stina: The thing was also the archive, the home movies she has and the diaries - they are so intimate. With storytelling, it's very important that if you want to tell a good life story, you must have the feeling - this person you want to spend the next two hours with. We thought it would be good to put the most emotional moment in her life in the beginning. It follows, throughout the whole film, the feeling of this lonely girl losing everybody and she is alone.

AKT: And the anchor she picks is film. The recorded memories take the place of family. This idea holds the documentary together, no? Can you talk about that idea?

Ingrid Bergman:
Ingrid Bergman: "It follows, throughout the whole film, the feeling of this lonely girl losing everybody and she is alone."

Stig: The point is also that she was always writing her diaries and she was having a correspondence with her best friends over the years and she saved it all. And it was like keeping the family with her. All the photos her father took and the films her father took which probably led to her interest in herself making home movies not only of her family but the surroundings of her life. And the amazing thing is that she brought this from Sweden to America to Italy to Paris to London and kept it all. I think it's that very early loss of everybody close to her made her disposition to keep it in some way. One of her children said - it's not in the film - wherever she went, on her night table she had a portrait of her father and mother, always, during all her life.

AKT: Isabella Rossellini comments about an early picture of her mother while still in theater school that you can already see the future movie star in her expression.

Stig: She is an extra and 16 years old.

AKT: In some respect, it's very modern what she did. The way the world is now with people recording their every experience - more than living it. The filming is taking over the actual experience.

Ingrid Bergman as Joan of Arc, directed by Victor Fleming
Ingrid Bergman as Joan of Arc, directed by Victor Fleming

Stina: What I also like is that she is having her 16mm camera. Have you seen this film by Jennifer Fox, this very long documentary? It is fantastic, ten hours or something, where she is going around the world interviewing people. Everyone could take the camera and start to film someone. But Ingrid's camera is actually the same. I think it's a very modern way of making a film. Suddenly, it's maybe Petter taking the camera filming Ingrid when she is sitting in the car in Berlin, or it may be a friend. Some of the children may take up the camera and film a dog. So the camera is not only Ingrid, because we have also a lot of good pictures of Ingrid.

Stig: Some of the footage is filmed by her first husband [Petter Lindström], and then by [Roberto] Rossellini and then later her third husband [Lars Schmidt] - that's the nice thing with the footage - there's so much with her as well.

AKT: It seems to me that she was in control what was being filmed.

Stina: What I mean is that that is a modern way to make a film. She is really a modern filmmaker, letting this camera walk around but, of course, she decides.

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words US poster
Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words US poster

AKT: It is happy moments mostly. Or did you cut out the sad ones not for us to see?

Stig: No, it's mainly happy moments. In the country places. It's interesting…

AKT: The footage of the Nazis marching by….

Stig: Yes, the Nazis marching by. Also with Joan of Arc, it's almost one hour of behind-the-scene films.

AKT: You did include the wonderful quote by her son, Roberto about Joan of Arc. He says - I wrote it down exactly: " And in the end, they burnt our mother on stage." What was her fascination with Joan of Arc, you think?

Stig: That's also a young girl that has a calling. And whatever happens, she wants to fulfill this calling. I mean, it's a calling from God that she should take the troops and conquer the British. Ingrid had that calling she should do something important.

AKT: For the masses.

Stig: For the masses, yeah.

Coming up: Michael Nyman, Liv Ullmann relating an Ingmar Bergman Autumn Sonata moment, Arnaud Desplechin, Eva Dahlgren, Ingrid Bergman's children, Pia Lindström. Roberto Rossellini, Isabella Rossellini and Ingrid Rossellini.

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words opens in the US on November 13.

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