In the entire history of cinema, there have been very few stars who have been as iconic and influential as Ingrid Bergman. Over the course of an unparalleled career, Bergman worked with some of the greatest filmmakers ever – ranging from Alfred Hitchcock and Ingmar Bergman to Sidney Lumet and Michael Curtiz, among many others.
She worked alongside equally influential icons and is still remembered for her brilliant work, especially the starring turn opposite Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. However, there was one particular filmmaking visionary who impressed Bergman so much that she sent him a fan mail even before they met.
That director was none other than Roberto Rossellini – a leading pioneer of the Italian neorealist movement who made multiple masterpieces such as Rome, Open City and Germany, Year Zero. When Bergman witnessed the magic of two of Rossellini’s films, she could not contain her admiration and wrote to the director.
She penned the following letter to Rossellini and requested him to consider her for a part:
“Dear Mr. Rossellini,
“I saw your films Open City and Paisan, and enjoyed them very much. If you need a Swedish actress who speaks English very well, who has not forgotten her German, who is not very understandable in French, and who in Italian knows only “ti amo,” I am ready to come and make a film with you.
Rossellini waited a while before he responded to Bergman’s fan mail, claiming that he was very excited about the possibility and that he wanted to be sure of his plans first. In his own letter, Rossellini explained that his method of constructing a neorealist investigation was very personal and he had found something that moved him.
The experience that sparked Rossellini’s response was coming across a refugee camp where he met a Latvian immigrant. Although he was dismissed by the guards, he returned later only to find that she had escaped from the area. Rossellini urged Bergman to join him in his search for this woman and her story.
He wrote: “Cinema relates with the camera, but I am certain, I feel, that with you near me, I could give life to a human creature who, following hard and bitter experiences, finds peace at last and complete freedom from all selfishness. That being the only true happiness which has ever been conceded to mankind, making life more simple and nearer to creation.”
That’s how the famous romantic relationship between Bergman and Rossellini commenced, a union that was described as “one of the best known love stories in film history”. Bergman ended up collaborating with him on his 1950 production Stromboli where she played the role of a Lithuanian immigrant who finds it difficult to find a sense of belonging.