Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 22, 2015 4:41 pm 
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From the 2015 NYFF "Documentary" section


Ingrid Bergman's life reviewed in interviews and pictures

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words/Jag är Ingrid is a Swedish documentary that was screened in the Cannes Classics section at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival -- where it received a special mention for L'Œil d'or award.

This is a warm picture of a great actress who had a complicated life with three husbands, and lived in Sweden, the US, Italy, France, and London. It is not just in Swedish. There are interviews in English, French, and Italian as well. Ingrid's loss of her parents when she was young may have contributed to her intentional rootlessness. And she compensated for this by scrupulously preserving her old photographs, journals, school papers, and other memorabilia, always carrying them from one new life to the next. We hear from the journals. We also get more than our fair share of what the Italians call "filmini" -- home movies, mostly showing Ingrid's young children. If you don't want to see a famous star's home movies, avoid this film.

"In Her Own Words" is not entirely entirely a good description of the documentary. In fact, Ingrid Bergman's children appear and speak very frequently, in various languages. Pia and Isabella speak only English. Roberto (the son, not the husband) speaks frequently in English, and occasionally in Italian. The gist is that while Ingrid's career and her love affairs came first and she was not a mother figure to her children, she played the role of friend to them as they grew up, and however imperfect she was as a parent, she was so charming and such fun to be with that they never felt any resentment.

New to some viewers is the fact that Ingrid had a significant affair with Robert Capa, the great photojournalist. (He died in 1954 in Vietnam, but this isn't mentioned, nor how the affair ended.)

There is some treatment of the scandal aroused, especially in the US, by Ingrid's abandonment of her marriage to Dr. Peter Lindström and taking up with Roberto Rossellini, which led to her being condemned in the US Congress and effectively banned from the US for years. But she was able to make a big comeback with the movie Anastasia in 1956, for which she won her second Academy Award, of three. Ingrid's Hollywood career with David O. Selznick, later with Hitchcock, was an immediate and great success. She was a glowing beauty and a natural on camera: she was a star. Yet her restlessness and desire for change led her to abandon Hollywood. She loved Rossellini ore than his filmmaking method; neorealism and improvisation were not her style, though she made one film with him that is mentioned, Stromboli. Mention is omitted of the four other films Rossellini made with Bergman in them: Europa '51, Viaggio in Italia, Giovanna d'Arco al rogo, and La Paura (Fear). The first Italian film is covered in the film, and also Casablanca; but all Ingrid's Hollywood career isn't covered, nor is there much detail about her life in Hollywood. The home movies only show the Benedict canyon house and the family cavorting around the pool. The limitation of home movies is so much happens away from home, if you're a big star.

The documentary goes into some detail about Ingrid's her 1978 final screen appearance, when she was seriously ill with cancer, in Ingmar Bergman's Autumn Sonata.

The kids don't want to speak ill of their mother (who played Joan of Arc so often they had to see her bur a lot), and another limitation of this film is that it offers no criticism of a life and lifestyle that must have produced enemies as well as detractors. All in all this is only a middling documentary with a preponderance of talking heads and archival footage. But its subject is too remarkable and beloved for this not to be a must-see for fans of film history.

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words/Jag är Ingrid, 114 mins., debuted at Cannes; other film festivals followed. Screened for this review as one of the Documentary section films of the 2015 New York Film Festival. Showed on French TV in Aug. 2015. US theatrical release scheduled for 13 November 2015.

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