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Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words (Jag är Ingrid)

(2015) *** 1/2 Unrated
114 min. Rialto Pictures. Director: Stig Björkman. Cast: Ingrid Bergman, Roberto Rossellini, Pia Lindström.

/content/films/4949/1.jpgKids these days have memes, but back when I was in high school, we had to make do with running jokes. One random phrase that has stuck in my head is that whenever I or my friends happened to mention actor Ingrid Bergman (which was surprisingly often), we always had to add the phrase "at the peak of her beauty," in reference to our first collective experience of Bergman being discussed. The original context was, I suspect, Casablanca, but the words "at the peak of her beauty" could paradoxically refer to the luminous star at any point in her life. Of course, Bergman was so much more than her peerlessly striking appearance, a point elegantly made by Stig Björkman's documentary Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words even as it provides ample evidence of Bergman's ever-peaking loveliness.

With deceptive simplicity, Björkman's film rounds out Bergman's character, her essence, amidst the contradictions inherent in human personality. As an outlier defined first by tragic loss and then by stardom, Bergman was something of a lonely soul, but when with her husbands, lovers, and children, she was all in, passionate and caring (and, a modern woman through and through, she nurtured her career at least as much as her family). She craved acceptance, but walked to the beat of her own drum. She was forthright and honest, but at at times self-deluding (endearingly, only viewing the documentary The Making of Autumn Sonata made her realize she was ever anything but the easiest artistic collaborator), and paid the biggest price for the emotional truth but social recklessness of overlapping relationships. And by telling Bergman's story "in Her Own Words," Björkman makes broadly accessible Bergman's intellect and soul of a poet.

The opening titles identify Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words as "A film based on Ingrid Bergman's home movies, her diaries and letters to her friends Mollie, Ruth and Irene/And told with the help of her four children/Pia Lindstrom/Roberto Rossellini/Ingrid Rossellini/Isabella Rossellini." The home movies join film clips spanning the actor's career, screen tests, and television interviews, in reviving Bergman's literal voice, while contemporary star Alicia Vikander gives voice to the diaries and letters. Björkman begins with Bergman's accounting, circa 1928-1929 of her father's illness, chased by multiple deaths in the family, before giving way to a montage of the dazzling film career which followed, a powerful encapsulation of Bergman's gifts, skills, and ambitions transcending life's disappointments.

/content/films/4949/2.jpgBergman's effortlessly poetic diary and letters provide more evidence, though patently unnecessary, of her artistic temperament, her lyrical view of experience. At 16, after logging her first day as a film extra inside the studio gates, Bergman reflects, "It felt like walking on holy ground." At 19, she enthuses, "I love the freedom I feel in front of the camera." These sources and the home movies, mostly shot by Bergman herself (and qualifying her, as film scholar Jeanine Basinger wisely notes, a filmmaker in her own right), allow us great intimacy, but well-selected interview clips contribute to an incisive portrait of Bergman's philosophy of her self and her life, a success story of 20th century feminism.

"I was the shyest creature in the world," she once said, "but I had a lion inside me that wouldn't keep quiet." Neatly summing up her tendency to suck the marrow out of a situation before moving on to the next, Bergman tells Merv Griffin, "Well, I started off in Sweden. Then I came to America. My American period was ten years in Hollywood. Then I went to Italy—eight years in Italy. Then I went to Paris and lived there for twenty years. And now I live in London. It's interesting....I don't want any roots...I want to be free." Although she once confessed, "I think I was more of a friend than a mother," her loyal children more often speak to her warmth and effervescent charm than to the disappointment of her long absences and the traumas of broken marriages and life in the spotlight.

Another insistent point is the pull of directors on Bergman (perhaps, as Lindstrom theorizes, in search of paternal approval to fill the void of her early loss), the strong bonds formed with Victor Fleming, Alfred Hitchcock, Jean Renoir, Ingmar Bergman and, of course, Roberto Rossellini, her second husband. The documentary allows us to share in the joy of the moment, time and again, while also feeling the sadness of our hindsight perspective on her romances.  In the film's last passages, Björkman also allows in the perspectives of a few extra-familial luminaries: Basinger (who founded and curates the Wesleyan Cinema Archives where Bergman's memories reside), Sigourney Weaver (who recalls starring opposite Bergman in a Broadway production of The Constant Wife, and Liv Ullmann (Bergman's Autumn Sonata co-star).

Since the film largely owes its existence to the cooperation of family, its understandable that it should end on such a sentimental note, with home movies matched to Eva Dahlgren's specially written song "The Movie About Us." After so much clear-headed portraiture, Bergman herself might have blanched at the emotional appeal. But there, after everything, is Bergman, mugging for the family camera, at the peak of her expressiveness, the peak of her charm, the peak of her beauty,

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 8/16/2016

Distributor: Criterion Collection

Criterion presents the documentary Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words in a deluxe Blu-ray special edition featuring outstanding A/V and a substantial collection of bonus features. Director Björkman sourced the image from a wide variety of archival materials in addition to shooting new digital photography of interviews (and, in a few brief passages, 8mm footage). The visual tone of the images, then, changes along with the film stock in question, but with one exception (a vehicular interstitial lasting a few seconds, which breaks up into a compression-artifact swarm), the quality is essentially pristine: the film clips, including the home movies, have been well preserved (the TV clips understandably somewhat less so), photographs have been sharply rendered, and Criterion's digital-to-digital transfer loses nothing in the translation. Audio comes in a DTS-HD Master Audio mix that likewise maximizes available source elements and faithfully recreates the theatrical experience, from clear spoken word to the lush scoring by Michael Nyman.

The most substantial bonus feature is a thorough new interview with director “Stig Björkman” (18:35), but we also get about 38 minutes of additional footage in the forms of 8mm “Home Movies” shot by Bergman in the 1930s (7:07, HD); “Deleted Scenes” of Bergman’s daughters reading an essay she wrote at age seventeen (2:54, HD) and an interview with film historian and Bergman scholar Rosario Tronnolone (8:45, HD); and “Extended Scenes” of the interviews with Sigourney Weaver, Liv Ullmann and Bergman’s daughter Isabella Rossellini (14:01, HD), and the one with the three Rossellini siblings (5:48, HD).

Criterion also includes a clip from the 1932 film Landskamp (0:34, HD), Bergman's screen debut; from a 1936 Bergman film On the Sunny Side Outtakes” (4:02, HD); “The Movie About Us” (4:42, HD), the music video for Eva Dahlgren’s film-ending song; and the film's "Trailer" (1:35, HD). As always, the release also includes terrific liner notes, in this case a fold-out sheet with photos, film credits, tech specs, and an on-point essay by film scholar Jeanine Basinger.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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