Cannes 2015: The myth of mother and woman Ingrid Bergman – in her own words (review)

100 years after her birth, Ingrid Bergman gives her blessing to the Cannes Film Festival every day from her portrait in its official poster. A documentary with access to her huge archive reveals the woman and mother behind the star.

“I’ve gone from saint to whore and back to saint again, all in one lifetime”

Ingrid Bergman’s legendary oneliner above has summarized for many years the path of a superstar that never played the publicity game conventionally.

It was not just her decision to leave Hollywood, Hitchcock and a career strewn with rose petals in order to live together with Roberto Rossellini in Italy without having divorced her first husband, causing the wrath of Americans and the undiminished tabloid interest of Italians. It was especially the decision to live her life just the way she desired, without ever thinking of the consequences of her actions, the impact of her choices, the fact that when you are Ingrid Bergman, you cannot do whatever you want unconditionally.

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In reality, Bergman was a modern woman – when the term hadn’t even been invented, and any adjective next to the word “woman” could not declare the concepts of leadership, independence and self-determination. However, the Swedish who charmed David O. Selznick and came to Hollywood to become one of the biggest stars in the history of cinema, has always been one step ahead of her time: an ambitious young actress who left Sweden to find the American dream, a woman in love, who defied the morality of the time and despite being married to someone else, lived her love with Roberto Rossellini in Italy making some of the most iconic films of all time. A passionate artist who triumphantly returned to Hollywood years later to be greeted by Oscars and the honours of an empress, more than any other actress, who performed until she died, making even Ingmar Bergman get carried away by her strict charm.

In one of her last interviews she said that she had no roots because she was not interested in roots: “What interests me is to be free.” And as a free woman she lived all her life, even playing an important role – that of the mother – for which, however, was never to be awarded since no role could be perfect in real life away from the movie set and the theatre stage.

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Leaving for Hollywood, Bergman abandoned her first daughter (from her marriage with Aron Lindström) in Sweden only to meet her years later after she was already an adult. Leaving Italy – after separating from Rossellini – left their three children, Roberto, Ingrid and Isabella behind. Constantly fleeing from her homelands, Bergman spent only wonderful moments of happiness with her children (sometimes in a villa in Italy, a hotel in Paris, an apartment in New York), but she never experience their upbringing, their school years, their need for her to be with them in every small or big event of their lives.

And here is where one can find perhaps the real interest of “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words” documentary that Stig Björkman made based on the access to her huge archive. Among her personal narratives (from her diaries and the letters sent till the end to her close friends back in Sweden) and the filmed documentation, which reveals that Bergman kept an archive during almost her entire life, her four children appear on camera to remember the “mother” Ingrid Bergman and synthesize the tender, albeit bitter chronicle of a long absence.

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In her own words, Ingrid Bergman states that she eventually preferred that life brought her to be more of a friend than a mother to her children. In their own words, her children hold back their anger to glorify their wonderful, entertaining mom and reach the conclusion that what is bitter is that they “didn’t get to spend more time with her.”

All together – the children at the present and their mom in the past – are the heroes of a home movie made not for demonstrating Ingrid Bergman’s art – one won’t find in the documentary the reason why Bergman became so successful in Hollywood or why the “Journey to Italy” and “Europe ’51” failed so miserably before they were recognized as two of cinema’s masterpieces.

What interests Björkman is the vintage feel of a family saga built around Ingrid Bergman – a mother that might have been bored by her children, who themselves admit they could not bear to see her depressed away from her art but who confess that through joint feelings of happiness and love from both sides the passing time left only beautiful memories.

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With a documentary rich in material and feelings that underlines more the human dimension of a great actress’ bigger-than-life path, of a woman and especially of a mother who knew that she sacrificed more than it was necessary to gain her freedom, while ensuring that she could be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Just as greath legends are supposed to do…

Read more of our Cannes 2015 reviews here.