From marriage gossips to on-screen magnetism, a documentary about Ingrid Bergman praises an actor who systematically refused expectations

Nearly 20 years ago, I went to stay with my husband in a house owned by the family of Roberto Rossellini, the great neorealist Italian film director. We wasted our daytimes as “youre doing when you” find yourself in an idyllic hideout in the Italian sunshine: learning; lying by the reserve; watching the lamp through the trees. And I thought about Ingrid Bergman, who must have visited this secluded villa at a time when her life was in free fall.

Its hard now to envisage the kind of gossip Bergman made when she became pregnant with Rossellinis child, while still married to her first spouse Petter Lindstrm. She wasnt only a bride, she was a mother, and had left her daughter Pia behind when she went off to Italy to work with Rossellini. The resentment was scalding. Bergman news jolts Hollywood like an A Bomb squawked one newspaper headline, neatly mixing two of the most important point news items of 1949.

In the US, religious groups began a campaign to ban her cinemas on the grounds that they glorified adultery. In Italy, she and Rossellini were followed everywhere by paparazzi, their companions for the rest of their hectic life together.

I was a danger for American femininity, she told an interviewer, year later. Even my voice over the radio was supposed to be dangerous. Of track I was hurt, but I didnt think that what I had done was so much other peoples business … If you dont like the performance, you can walk out, but to criticise peoples private life, I thought was wrong.

That rebellious statement of intent is quoted in Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words , a new documentary film directed against Stig Bjrkman that tells the story of one of Hollywoods most enduring starrings. It sucks on her journals, characters and interrogations, interspersed with residence movies, and peeks of the actor in all her screen splendor, from her Swedish introduction in 1935 to her Hollywood heyday in the 1940 s to her final characters nearly 40 year later. It is a disclosing insight into the status of women who consistently refused expectations.

Watch government officials trailer for Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words

In her first American screen experiment, in bleached-out colouring and stillnes, with no makeup as the clapper timber proclaims, she shines. It is as if “shes in” control of trade secrets and that knowledge illuminates her from within, as she gazes directly at the camera, or smiles with a warmth that could thaw a Swedish wintertime. Its a signal of all that is to come. If you think of Bergman on screen, in Casablanca , Notorious or Gaslight , it is that happiness that first comes to mind.

In part this was a simple matter of her grace. Daniel Selznick, son of the powerful David O who first broom Bergman away to Hollywood, informed her biographer Charlotte Chandler: There is no one I have ever encountered, of any age, of any generation, that took ones breath away at every join the behavior she did. The color, the cheeks, the neck, the ears, the snout, the eyes, the body of a goddess. And she was just absolutely unselfconscious. Gregory Peck, her co-star in Hitchocks Spellbound , suggested that she was even more beautiful away from the studio cameras a judgment vindicated by the residence movie footage that pictures her relaxed with family and friends.

But there is some other mysterious push at work. From the very first, she was confident in front of a camera, and it is Pia Lindstrm the daughter she vacated when she ran off with Rossellini who offers a mental cause for her mothers amazing impact on screen. Bergmans mom had died when she was two, so she used brought up by her parent, a photographer, whom she adored, until he very died when she used 13.

Love would come right through that lens, indicates Lindstrm. She was looking through that lens and she is looking at her dear dead parent, and she would flirt and play with him and pose with him. She was completely comfy with the camera and knew how to pose.

Bergman herself was aware of her endowment. She was a poverty-stricken little orphan girl, lonely and bereft, hitherto filming built her look alive. Theres a photo of her going to her first ever job as an additional that is notable not only for her staggering loveliness, but for the sheer vigor of her pose as she peers along the line of waiting hopefuls, appearing outwards and forwards. I desire the freedom I find in front of the camera, she said.

Bergman
Photograph: Soda Pictures

But she was a dab hand behind a camera, very, inheriting from her papa a desire to record the world and the people around her. She filmed her honeymoon with Petter, and when she left him abruptly she wrote doing she didnt crave many of the precious she had left behind. The only trouble will be our 16 mm movie. Perhaps you are able to lend it to me so I can see what I looked like in my youth.

That desire to preserve each aspect of their own lives in photographs and footage has left Bjrkman a fortune of substance on which to draw; in this private footage you interpret her fallen in love with Rossellini, stroking his head tenderly as they speak; you watch the three children they had together grow up; you picture their suspicion as their parents marriage falls apart. Later, you watch the sadness cross Bergmans face as she climbs into an ambulance when her daughter Isabella is diagnosed with scoliosis.

But just as revealing are the words and journals that Bergman likewise perpetuated, rich in self-knowledge and the honest strife of the contradictions in her attribute. Writing to a acquaintance, when she is experiencing the first even of success in her Hollywood career, she describes her hysterium at not working for four months which is two months too long. She is at home with Petter and Pia, but profess: Simply half of me is alive. The other half is jam-pack away in a suitcase suffocating. What should I do?

She has an affair with Robert Capa, the crusade photographer, and her free spirit surges. She tries to be a good wife and to knit at home, but the siren call of something different propels her onwards. With Rossellini, it is his employment she falls in love with first; she admires Rome, Open City and writes him a bold proposal. If you ever involve a Swedish actor who addresses very good English and a bit German, who can constitute herself understood in French and can only pronounce ti amo in Italian, then Ill come and make a film with you.

Years subsequently she explains his appeal more amply. It was a combination of passion that I fell in love with a soul who was so different from any other man I had ever known, and it was my apathy in Hollywood I wanted to do something that they didnt expect me to do. When her relationship with Rossellini broke down, and she began to think about returning to Hollywood, she was still have decided to do the kind of cinemas I detect comfortable with. Success mattered vastly to Bergman, but not at any price.

At the same time, as the cinema makes clear, though her children mattered to her intensely, she was prepared to leave them to prosecute her job. Her priorities were not those expected. If you took acting away from me I would stop breathing, she said. She acknowledged “shes had” missed a lot, by leaving not only one child but her second organize of children to be brought up chiefly by others. I do regret it, but I dont think they sustained, she said.

That complexity the authentic tone of a woman who knew her own fallibility, of someone who loved and lost but never deplored constitutes Bergman, who died of cancer, aged 67, in 1982, a peculiarly admirable Hollywood star. She was a pioneer before her experience; protective and constrained by her loveliness, she travelled ever onwards, brave and strong.

There is a rose appointed after her, which I have in my plot. It is deep red, lightly smelled and nearly too perfect in shape and flesh. It blooms for a very long time, persisting long after other buds shed their petals. There could not get a better tribute to relevant actors who is always worth remembering.

Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words is at the BFI Southbank, London SE1, from 12 August and then at selected cinema. At the BFI, the cinema will be accompanied by a mini season, Ingrid Bergman on Screen . bfi.org.uk

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