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film review

Ingrid Bergman, seen here with her children, often had to balance her own compulsion to get behind the camera.

Last spring, Ingrid Bergman's face loomed large over the Cannes Film Festival on billboards that marked the centennial of the remarkable actress. Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words is another such commemoration.

In Stig Björkman's documentary, the late silver-screen icon makes her first visit to the French resort town in 1937, before either was associated with Hollywood. It's Bergman's own footage, shot on a rainy day during her then-newlywed road trip with first husband Petter Lindström. Two years later, Bergman's first Hollywood screen test for David O. Selznick will be so dazzling and capture such breathtaking incandescence that the clapperboard must reassure producers that the Swedish ingenue wears "no makeup, no lip rouge."

From a young age, the camera reigned supreme in Bergman's life – her father owned a camera shop and photographed her often; she was seldom without her 16-millimetre camera (photos show her in costume, wielding it on set between takes). Bergman's eldest daughter, Pia Lindström, nails the movie's underlying theme, of how throughout her mother's life, "love came through a lens." Bergman constantly had to balance her own compulsion to get behind the lens and record her family and friends, until her death from breast cancer at the age of 67, in 1982.

Assemblage is how Björkman shows and tells the personal side of his eponymous subject. Although the title isn't strictly accurate – Bergman's four adult children weigh in throughout, as do a few others (Liv Ullmann, Sigourney Weaver) – the tribute is shaped by the performer's amateur footage, home movies, private diaries and correspondence with her lifelong friends (read by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander in a confiding tone).

Restless and driven (in between pictures, Bergman writes, "only half of me is alive"), no sooner does her talent conquer Hollywood than she is beguiled by Europe and its postwar style of moviemaking. And one filmmaker in particular: Roberto Rossellini, who, like Bergman, was married when they collaborated and, to much scandal, fell in love.

The self-described "stubborn and wild" Bergman "went where the wind took her," according to daughter Pia, who as a teen remained behind in Los Angeles with her father (the acrimonious divorce and custody is glossed over), while Bergman and Rossellini's three children are later raised by nannies at a private nursery in Rome when both parents move on.

As daughter Ingrid explains how their father would regularly call to check in, a playful home movie of the children excitedly grabbing at a telephone plays, Bergman's visiting presence signalled as much by the fur coat flung in the background as by the footage's very existence.

If Bergman's drive, impulsiveness and wanderlust caused lasting hurt, she was easily forgiven; when son Roberto explains she was "more of a friend than a mother," it's with fondness. They chalk Bergman's lifelong interest in Joan of Arc up to her similarly heroic calling, to acting.

On paper that rationale hasn't always been the most convincing. But the explanation comes alive here – the screen, always Bergman's supreme medium, is proof of the power of her magnetic and energetic presence.

It shines through in even the grainiest, jumpy, out-of-focus home-movie footage.

As with her fans, she left them wanting more.

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