Stig Björkman’s documentary is compelling in its gossamer, wraithlike croise devant. Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words is a thoughtful, almost literary, recollection of images lost. Unlike flashy, aesthetically savvy documentarians such as Errol Morris or Alex Gibney, Björkman lives in the flame engulfed wick of memories forgotten. Reveries are the repertoire. And while this slow burn of a delivery may induce nervous leg syndrome in some audiences, the Swedish director is in no hurry to paint his subject – and this strategy is to his benefit.
Here, Ingrid’s personal letters, creased diary entries, and public interviews narrate the proceedings. Read by Academy Award nominee Alicia Vikander, there is a touch of sadness that bleeds into the entire film. This is fantastic voicework that rivals Scarlett Johansson’s idiosyncratic vocal tics in Spike Jonze’s Her, or, even more recently, the heart-tenderizing delivery of Jennifer Jason Leigh in Anomalisa. The overcast melancholia, specked with hopefulness, is realized in Vikander’s delicate readings. Bergman feels tangible, whole again.
Not exclusively built around voiceovers, Björkman’s film is dotted by appearances from Bergman’s kids, all of whom dish erudite anecdotes about their late mother. Isabella Rossellini, as you would expect, is the most sentient star of these interviews. She gives articulate, endearing memories of her famous family through an uninhibited lens. Somehow, though the documentary is exceedingly intimate, Sigourney Weaver appears to tell one, uh, superfluous story about the late film legend. It’s more distracting than informative, and one wonders why she was included in a doc clearly titled Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words.
Most of the doc is told through puttering film reels. The fascinating family movies dance in mystery. Ingrid perches her arms on weathered partitions. Pets animals. Emerges with an unencumbered smile after diving into her home’s swimming pool. It’s a carousel of bittersweet – practically kaleidoscopic – images. Paired with Michael Nyman’s spectral score, it’s hard not to feel attached to the circulatory system of this unconventional documentary.
Many of the notes, stories, and personal reflections from Ingrid range from whimsical to sad to strange. There is one particular excerpt that sees a theatrical Roberto Rossellini threatening to drive his Ferrari into a tree. Björkman’s doc paints Bergman as a restless, thoughtful, and rarely complacent person. She was never rudderless, never content. And with that, she was also always on the cusp of sadness. Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words – opening at Landmark’s Ken Cinema this Friday – is a moving portrait of a talented, unique, and mysterious woman. One that should not be missed.