At one point during In Her Words, summing up her ups and downs in Hollywood, Ingrid Bergman offers, “I’ve gone from saint to whore and back to saint all in one lifetime.” Made at the behest of Bergman’s daughter Isabella Rossellini, Stig Björkman’s vivid, lovingly mounted documentary attempts to reveal the emotional realities behind the perception, drawing on the Swedish actress’ personal diary (read here by Alicia Vikander), talking head interviews with her children and stunning home movie footage across Bergman’s entire life.
For the film fan, the pillars of her acting career — Casablanca, her Hitchcock troika, the Italian era with Roberto Rossellini — get scant coverage and there is little in the way of analysis of her working methods or assessing her place in film history. Instead, we get the personal story; the tough Swedish upbringing (she lost her parents and siblings very young); the scandal around her leaving her first husband, child and America to be with Rossellini in Italy (she was practically persona non grata in Hollywood for years); her distant relationship to her children. The image that emerges is one of a restless, independent, adventurous woman, whose sense of play and imagination staved off a lonely childhood, fuelled one of cinema’s greatest career and seemingly made her children forgive her absence.
Bergman was a hoarder, keeping home movies, pictures, diaries, school reports so, for all the darkness in her life, we get lovely private moments — rehearsing an American accent, kidding around with Roberto Rossellini, faux wrestling with Ingmar Bergman — that finds the human being behind the screen icon, often accompanied by a gorgeous Michael Nyman score. The music augments an affecting portrait of a woman who loved often and deeply, who lived her life on her own terms and, during her lifetime, was pilloried for it. In Her Words happily redresses the balance.