Sunday, August 9, 2015

1956: Ingrid Bergman for Anastasia

In her second and final Best Actress winning performance, Bergman plays a woman suffering from amnesia who just might be the lost Grand Duchess of Russia.

This isn't exactly the most exciting movie ever made. Personally, I prefer the 1997 animated version. This film could have really used some musical numbers and a creepy, undead villain to spice it up. That being said, I actually enjoyed it more than I thought I was going to. It was a pretty typical Ingrid Bergman performance, which means that by most actresses' standards it was a great performance. It didn't come close to her other Best Actress winning performance in Gaslight, but overall I thought she did a remarkable job of capturing this confused but determined character. While previous Best Actress winner Helen Hayes, who played the Dowager Empress, steals pretty much every scene she's in, Bergman manages to hold her own when they finally meet, quite late in the movie. I would call this film worth watching just to see these two fabulous actresses playing against each other as Bergman tries to convince the hardened Hayes that she could be her granddaughter.

Ingrid Bergman may seem a bit of an odd choice to play a Russian princess, since she was Swedish, and though she was fluent in five languages, Russian was not one of them. It's even more of an interesting choice to have her play opposite Yul Brynner, who was actually Russian. But Bergman was often cast in Hollywood films as "generic European with a vague accent," so after seeing her play characters from a wide variety of countries, it's not quite as strange to imagine her as Russian as one might think. And it's not like the 1997 version was much better; pretty much all the voices were American or British actors. Anyway, despite being from the wrong country, Bergman brings a deep sense of humanity to the character, as she does in most of her roles, so that the audience is always on her side. In the film it's never proven beyond all doubt that she is Anastasia - and in recent years it's actually been proven using DNA analysis that the woman whose story this is based on could not have been her - but watching it you desperately want her to be, just so this poor woman knows who she is. If I didn't feel so bad for her I probably wouldn't have connected with this movie, but Bergman makes her so real that I can't help it.

This was Bergman's fifth of six Best Actress nominations. Her fourth had been for 1948's Joan of Arc, and her final nomination didn't come until 1978's Autumn Sonata, although she won Best Supporting Actress for 1974's Murder on the Orient Express. If you're wondering why there were such large gaps between nominations, I think a lot of it had to do with Roberto Rossellini, the Italian director she had an affair with and eventually married. Hollywood was pretty upset with her for a while, so this Oscar for Anastasia was kind of their way of saying, "We forgive you." Which all seems rather silly now, but back then it was a big deal apparently. In addition, for most of her career she switched back and forth between European films and Hollywood films, which probably also prevented her from receiving more nominations. The final reason I can think of is that by this time she was already over 40, and there have never been too many interesting roles in Hollywood for women in that age group, unless you're Katharine Hepburn or Meryl Streep. In any case, even though I think she was far more worthy in Gaslight than in either of her other two Academy Award winning performances, I still think she deserves to be one of only three actresses so far who have been awarded three Oscars, and if I were in charge she probably would have received more.

Up next: Joanne Woodward, the second Best Actress winner who is still alive

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