With each scene reading like a page taken from the life of one of cinema’s most illustrious stars – a woman so beautiful and beguiling she seemed more like a literary heroine than a fallible actress with foibles and flaws – Björkman’s film is worthy of its name; presenting the Oscar-winning legend, Ingrid Bergman, in her own estimation – by way of correspondences, personal home movies and photographs.
Featuring interviews with the actress’ loved ones (including her children with Roberto Rossellini and first husband Petter Lindström), and co-stars (such as Sigourney Weaver who appeared alongside Bergman in the play The Constant Wife), In Her Own Words paints an intimate and deeply personal portrait of the famously affecting actress.
Relying on Bergman’s writings and touching accounts of those closest to her, Björkman’s documentary strings together a moving narrative of the actress’ life and legacy; highlighting damned near every single chapter of her storied life. The film sheds light on its protagonist’s formative years in Sweden, reiterating the difficulties of her childhood (having lost both her parents at a tender age), recaptures her big move to Hollywood, covering every step taken on her road to success; and covers the rough and romantic details of her loves, break-ups and affairs.
Over the course of one hour and fifty-plus minutes, we are transported – not just back in time, but into the life of a woman we as filmgoers have come to recognise, respect and love; but hardly know – in any true and meaningful sense. Björkman’s film – generously sharing the stunning Swede’s deepest secrets and innermost thoughts; her worries and musings – goes some way to rectifying that. The documentary acquaints us with Bergman as her star is rising, it gets up, close and personal with the sensitive celebrity at her most vulnerable, caught in the maelstrom of her extra-marital scandal; and zooms in on the award-winner as she makes her triumphant comeback, returning from her exile to nab the Oscar for her performance in Anastasia.
A film of surprising scope, the documentary covers the full span of Bergman’s life; focussing not just on her halcyon years – those golden periods as bright as her flaxen hair – but, also on the less glitzy and glamorous aspects of her life.
This is what sets In Her Own Words apart. The film is predicated on Bergman’s inner voice – the dialogue she has with herself – her honest and heartfelt wrestling with life: her life – her womanhood, career, likes, dislikes and loves.
Whilst refreshingly honest and candid in this regard, the documentary does, at times, appear too in love with its subject; the film veering uncomfortably close to being cloying at points. Nonetheless, this is no hagiographic piece of work. Even if we were to be hyper critical and chide the film as two hours of navel-gazing, it would be safe to say very few navels have been this enthralling or fun to gaze at.
With what feels like an important release – event viewing for cinephiles – Stig Björkman has put together a lovingly made film reminding us of the beauty and grace of an unforgettable icon; a film giving the Casablanca and Autumn Sonata star the chance to characterise her story and success in her own words. Taken by the candour and sensitivity of the documentary, it is incredibly difficult not to be impressed by Bergman’s voice and storytelling. Nigh on impossible not to be left captivated and rapt; alive with excitement and all ears; the film speaking eloquently to the popularity and brilliance of a true great.