One of the most captivating figures of Hollywood’s Golden Age, Ingrid Bergman continues to exert her preternatural allure in “Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words,” an engrossing documentary constructed from her home movies and entries in the diaries she faithfully kept throughout her life. The Swedish-born actress (1915-1982), who left for Hollywood in 1939 as a young wife and new mother, never lost her wanderlust nor her willingness to challenge conventional notions of maternal propriety. Later on, she would scandalize Hollywood and prudishly judgmental members of the U.S. Senate, who publicly denounced her, by leaving yet again, this time for Rome and an affair with the director Roberto Rossellini.
Those events are revisited from the inside out in “In Her Own Words,” which features extensive interviews with three of her children: Pia Lindstrom, the daughter she had with her first husband, Petter; and Isabella and Roberto Ingmar Rossellini. Although Lindstrom could be forgiven some bitterness — and the Rossellinis, too, considering that she left them behind when her marriage to their father broke up — they’re expansive in their praise for a mother who never made a secret of her thirst for adventure, romance and celebrity. Rather than feeling abandoned, they all agree, they wish they could have spent more time with her because, as Lindstrom notes, “she was so much fun.”
Fun and driven. The portrait that emerges here is of an actress with an uncanny instinct for playing to the camera, a talent she most likely acquired as a child, when her widowed father compulsively photographed his only daughter. Her star quality is evident in a screen test she made as a young starlet newly arrived in Hollywood: Devoid of makeup or fancy dress, she exudes magnetism and beauty all the more startling for being seemingly unstudied.
Directed by Stig Bjorkman with deep affection and respect, “In Her Own Words” joins the recent “Listen to Me, Marlon” — in which Marlon Brando narrates his life through a series of diaristic tape recordings — as a tantalizing glimpse of an otherwise unreachable icon. Heaven only knows what kind of films will be constructed from the tweets, Instagram posts and Facebook updates of this generation of actors — or whether they’ll be worth documenting at all in the decades to come.
As a family-approved document, “In Her Own Words” is celebratory rather than probing, critical or comprehensive. The admiring tone begins to falter toward the end, when interviews with Sigourney Weaver and Liv Ullmann take on the rote quality of testimonials rather than genuine revelation, and when Michael Nyman’s repetitive score finally becomes annoyingly intrusive. For students of movie history, though, “In Her Own Words” offers a rich, generous-spirited portrait of a woman who, in her unapologetic pursuit of art, fame and personal growth, was far ahead of her time.
Unrated. At Landmark’s Bethesda Row Cinema. Contains nothing offensive. In Swedish, English, Italian and French with subtitles. 114 minutes.