Memories of Ingrid

Stig Björkman and Pia Lindström on family, dogs, home movies and Ingrid Bergman.

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Stina Gardell, Pia Lindström, Stig Björkman with Anne-Katrin Titze
Stina Gardell, Pia Lindström, Stig Björkman with Anne-Katrin Titze Photo: Adrienne Halpern

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (Jag Är Ingrid) opened in the US at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas on Friday with the director Stig Björkman and Pia Lindström joining me for a post screening discussion. Pia, Roberto Rossellini, Isabella Rossellini and Ingrid Rossellini appear in Stig's film to comment on their mother, whose life story had been fodder for the press. It is truly fascinating to catch the constantly moving movie star from different angles in her home movies. Letters and diary entries read by Alicia Vikander guide us through the decades from Sweden to Hollywood to Italy and Paris and London.

Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, Michael Curtiz' Casablanca, Roberto Rossellini's Stromboli, Leo McCarey's The Bells Of St. Mary's, and Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata are revealed to have special meaning. The memory of a distinctive Rossellini family dachshund puppy made everyone laugh and Pia spoke with us about the universal challenges of parenthood and how Ingrid Bergman's luminous face and the camera's love for it are a perfect match.

Ingrid Bergman with her children: Pia, Isabella, Ingrid and Roberto
Ingrid Bergman with her children: Pia, Isabella, Ingrid and Roberto

Anne-Katrin Titze: I would like to start with the structure of this film. Usually, when you have a film like this, it would be in chronological order, you'd have a linear structure. You don't do that at all, instead you start at the darkest point in Ingrid Bergman's life and then we have an ascension.

Stig Björkman: Of course, we tried different structures and one of them was a linear one. Then we saw that if we tell the Ingrid Bergman story from A-Z, there were lapses in time which we had to solve in some ways. For that version we had a male narrator as well as Alicia Vikander reading from the diaries and the letters and it became a bit boring. Not that it was a bad narrator - it was a very good Swedish actor, but the structure became a bit boring.

Then, I don't remember how, together with Stina [Gardell] the producer, and my editor Dominika [Daubenbüchel] we found a solution, starting with this very crucial moment in Ingrid Bergman's life, when she is 14 years old and has lost most of her family. She is taken care of by other relatives or friends, but she is more or less alone in life. This gave us another freedom so we could continue to edit the film more associatively, which I like. So, for instance, as you saw, her early years and her childhood come in the middle of the film.

Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa in Casablanca
Ingrid Bergman as Ilsa in Casablanca

AKT: Pia, I heard from Stina that there was a box in your basement that contained some of the footage of you as a child and some of the earlier footage that entered the film quite late.

Pia Lindström: My mother, as you saw, always shot home movies. All her life I saw her shooting home movies, and many of them I had. I think Ingrid and Isabella and Robby in Italy - they had others, shot there. And I had just kept them. She kept photographs and all kinds of things and I never quite knew what I was supposed to do with all of these home movies. And then after Isa met Stig and we met Stig, too, and thought he would be a very good person to do this documentary, I gave these films that were 16mm and any kind of old, not video films, that I had. But I know you [to Stig] had many others from other people.

AKT: Did working on this film change the memories of your mother? Did certain things come back into focus?

Pia: I haven't forgotten. I'm getting old, but I haven't forgotten [Pia laughs]. Seeing the home movies is always poignant. I'm sure many of you go back and look at albums and see yourself young. Of course, it's poignant to see yourself and your parents when they were happy, when they were healthy, when they were young - all of those things. It's always touching to see that. I don't have a different impression.

Pia Lindström on Ingrid Bergman:
Pia Lindström on Ingrid Bergman: "She was so comfortable in front of a camera …"

AKT: I did not mean how you read me! I meant to say that when we remember things we remember things differently over time. Memories change when we see visuals that we haven't seen for a long time.

Pia: They didn't. They are accurate in my mind as I see them. Some things I even remember. I mean, the swimming pool being built and things like that I remember. It's not that I never looked at them. I transferred some of them to other digital things to look at.

AKT: Do you watch your mother's films?

Pia: Of course!

AKT: Often?

Pia: Well, when they come on Netflix. How many times have I seen Casablanca? We can all quote all the lines to that. I've seen almost all of them. There are some that I understand and like better. I didn't go to movies as a child. Some people seem to think that actresses take their seven or eight-year-olds to the movies. I didn't see the movies then. I saw, I think, Bells of St. Mary's. I think she took me to see that. But that was about it.

AKT: You say, you like some more than others. What are some of your favorites?

Roberto, Isabella and Ingrid Rossellini all over Mama
Roberto, Isabella and Ingrid Rossellini all over Mama

Pia: I like Notorious. We've all seen Casablanca so many times, it's just imprinted in the brain. Notorious, I think, shows her in a particularly good light. You know, what she was able to do, was to bring her emotions into her eyes. Whatever she could feel, she conveyed it. I suppose it's facial construction, I'm not sure why. The camera could pick that up. I think it does have something to with how your face is made because if the bone here [she points to her brow] is very big, you won't see the light shining.

There's also something in the construction of her face that allows you to see her eyes very well. And she had that persona, as you saw in the documentary. Her father was a cameraman and took photographs of her all the time. She was so comfortable in front of a camera, flirting, playing, putting on costumes for her father, the one person left that she could love through the lens. And she loved several people through the lens. That was, I think, one of the ways she best conveyed love, as a matter of fact.

AKT: Stig, I want to ask you the same question in two ways. Did you have a favorite Ingrid Bergman film before making this documentary and do you have a new favorite now?

Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Bergman:
Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Bergman: "The dilemma in Autumn Sonata is the same dilemma that everybody faces."

Stig: I think, actually, that I had the Rossellini - Ingrid Bergman films as a favorite. I remember many years ago when I was working as a film critic, they had a series of articles in a major newspaper in Stockholm, where they asked various people to write about their favorite movie and I chose Stromboli. That was a very long time ago. I still like these films very much but I totally agree with you [Pia]. Notorious, I think is her best and most exciting role in the American film period. And then, of course, Autumn Sonata is great too.

Pia: I agree with you on Autumn Sonata. When people sometimes say, you saw your mother in the movies - the woman that is in her early movies, does not look like my mother. I see her as an actress and there is that person. But in Autumn Sonata, she was older and she looked the way I remembered my mother when I was mature, too. The other reason I like it is - the dilemma in Autumn Sonata is the same dilemma that everybody faces: Do I use my God given gift and give it to the world or do I stay home and take care of my needy children?

Ingrid Bergman:
Ingrid Bergman: "She loved several people through the lens."

Certainly for an actress or as Ingmar Bergman's - one of his wives I think was a violinist - she had the same dilemma. How far do you go to give your skills out into the world? And that could go for a politician or a fireman or somebody in the army, a general or a traveling salesman. I think almost everybody who has children faces that question. I thought that such a universal theme and it applied certainly to my mother.

AKT: I thought, aside from Ingrid Bergman, this documentary is about desire for life and decision making, domestic decision making - trying to make it all Ds - and dogs. How many dogs did you have? How many dogs are in this film?

Pia responds with a laugh: I don't know about all the Rossellini dogs. I know about the California dogs, the Lindström dogs. Yes, we had many dogs. My mother and father liked dogs very much. I only know that when I lived with Ingrid and Isabella and Robby in Rome for about four years when they were very young, they had a terrible dog, that peed all over the curtains and made a big mess. It was a dachshund. I don't know if there are dachshund owners out there [the audience laughs]. You couldn't reprimand that dog because it would growl at you. Anyway, the children loved that dog [there is an adorable black and tan dachshund puppy to be seen in the documentary]. We did have a lot of animals.

AKT: And you have a dog now, who is mentioned in the film. We hear you say "here comes my dog now."

Pia: Unfortunately, she didn't get a leading role [turning to Stig].

Stig: [laughing] Well, we hear about her.

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