One of the most beloved film personalities of all time, Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman made a name for herself first in movies from Sweden and Germany, and then in the US and around the world.
With classics to her name like Casablanca, Notorious, and Gaslight, as well as three Academy Awards, and a host of other trophies, Bergman is cemented in history as a big screen star. Her natural grace and poise on camera made her a sensation, while her inate Swedish reserve made sure that the public was forever interested in her life off-screen as well.
Though she died in 1982 at the age of 67, Bergman’s work has stood the test of time; her performances come across as elegant and authentic, from her early work to her final films.
These are the six essential films of Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman:
The classic to end all classics. Starring Humphrey Bogart and Bergman, Casablanca tells the story of Rick and Isla, former lovers who meet again toward the end of WWII, where Rick has a bar and gambling joint in Casablanca. Isla and her husband, a Czech resistance fighter, ask Rick to help them escape to America by giving them “letters of transit” he has in his possession. Ilsa is still in love with Rick, but feels she must do her duty towards her husband; she thinks he will escape and she will stay with Rick. The dramatic final scene – where Rick puts Ilsa on the plane with her husband despite her protestations – is one of the most famous in cinema history.
Have you heard the term “gaslight,” meaning to emotionally manipulate one into distrusting his/her own memory and sanity? The term comes from the Patrick Hamilton play “Gas Light” (1938), on which this film is based. Ingrid Bergman is Paula, the woman being abused by her husband, played with explosive intensity by Charles Boyer. He slowly makes her believe she is going insane, with the goal of having her institutionalized. Turns out, he murdered her wealthy aunt in order to steal her valuable jewels, but never got the goods and is still after them, believing them to be in Paula’s possession. What could come across as hokey or overly-dramatic is instead tense and suspenseful thanks to Bergman’s quiet desperation. This is a film that showcases how her understated acting can speak volumes.
Oh, this one is sexy! A story of a love triangle between spies has two men in love with Ingrid Bergman: Cary Grant and Claude Rains. Considered a turning point artistically for director Alfred Hitchcock, Notorious is known not only for its classic noir performances, but also its boundary-pushing storyline. Bergman’s Alicia Huberman is well-known for her “promiscuous” past, and there’s a kiss in the film that only barely made it past the censor’s “three second rule” by having Grant and Bergman continually break the kiss, then begin again. These two powerhouses have a wonderful, easy chemistry. The film is pulpy, engaging, and electric.
Journey to Italy (1954)
Based on the book Duo by Colette, Journey to Italy follows an English couple as they travel to Naples to sell an inherited villa. Not much happens in the film; it’s mostly about the couple’s quietly strained relationship and the small things that chip away at love. The film is directed by Roberto Rossellini, who was at the time married to Bergman. The incredibly beautiful backdrop of Italy provides a stark contrast to the petty, uncomfortable back-and-forth between the two leads. The final act of the film brings the two back together in an unexpected, tentative way.
Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
No, not the 2017 version with Kenneth Branagh and his utterly ridiculous moustache. The original film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1934 train murder mystery is a classic of the genre. Though Bergman has the relatively small role of Greta Ohlsson in the film (one she insisted on, after being offered the bigger role of Princess Dragomiroff), her impact is strongly felt in her one monologue. Director Sidney Lumet did the speech as one long shot; Bergman’s emotional journey within that shot is a marvel.
Autumn Sonata (1978)
This performance from Bergman is considered one of her bravest. Starring Liv Ulmann as a daughter who confronts her neglectful mother and famous classical pianist, Bergman. Directed by Swedish legend Ingmar Bergman, the film meditates on the parent-child relationship and forgiveness.