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If TMZ had been around in the 1940s, Ingrid Bergman would have been a juicy target. Neophytes may find Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words most compelling when it dives into the Swedish three-time Oscar winner’s scandal: While married to her first husband and “one and only love,” Petter Lindström, with whom she had a child, Bergman began an affair with director Roberto Rossellini while making the film Stromboli. Bergman didn’t hide the dalliance, nor her subsequent pregnancy; in fact, she decided to stay in Italy and marry Rossellini, leaving Lindström and their daughter, Pia, in the United States.
Both her fans and the American press—legitimate papers, not today’s sleazy, gotcha kind—took to their fainting couches. The Lexington Dispatch, for instance, crowed on A1: “Much Pressure to Ban Ingrid Bergman’s Films,” with the subhed, “Conduct Tends to Glorify Adultery.” Her reaction was one of disbelief, saying, “I thought [the public] should look upon an actress as an actress,” and not bother themselves with a star’s personal life. Ed Sullivan asked his audience to vote on whether they wanted her as a guest. What a difference a few decades—and the Internet—make.
Moments like this in Stig Björkman’s documentary arguably paint Bergman as cold and selfish; regarding a six-month span during which she was performing in a play and didn’t see Pia, she said, “One can’t have everything.” Bergman also didn’t live with the children she had with Rossellini (including, of course, Isabella) once she left him for husband No. 3. Yet her kids, interviewed here, don’t hold grudges, with their biggest compliment being, “She was so much fun.”
In addition to interviews, Ingrid Bergman is compiled of diary entries, read by Ex Machina star Alicia Vikander, as well as endless home movies; one montage shows Bergman holding various cameras to her face. These belie any contention that the actress was emotionally distant or cruel. Instead, Bergman comes across as strong, free-spirited, restless, and true to herself, from the time she first left Sweden for Hollywood until her death in 1982. Acting, as one quote from her diary reads, was as essential to her as breathing. During one four-month period of unemployment after she made Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, she wrote to a friend, “I think about every day that’s wasted. Only half of me is alive.”
Bergman’s zest to see the world (she lived in several countries) and accept experiences and changes as they come imbue the documentary with an irresistible appeal regardless of how familiar you are with the star. The film does end on a note that’s a bit too worshipful, with more home movies set to a treacly song that seems to go on forever. But what you’re left with is warmth and possibly even inspiration to live as fully as Bergman did. Most remarkable is that she regarded herself as timid: “I was the shyest [sic] creature in the world,” a title card reads. “But I had a lion inside me that wouldn’t keep quiet.”
Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words opens Friday at Landmark Bethesda.