You've seen her before: Isabella Rossellini was the face of Lancôme. A daughter of Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, she is a model, actress, and an author. For the 100th anniversary of her father's birth, Rossellini, 54, wrote In the Name of the Father, the Daughter and the Holy Spirits: Remembering Roberto Rossellini and made the film My Dad Is 100 Years Old. She spoke to TIME's Jeff Chu about her dad's belly, today's Bergman and ageism.
Why a book and film as gifts for your father's 100th birthday?
He was a director who has been more influential than commercial. If you see films for fun, you don't really know him. I'm no intellectual. Academics can say things I can't. But I can tell a new generation about what my dad did. I wanted to make a book that gave glimpses of him and his life.
In your film, you talk to your parents as if they were still alive. If you really could do that, what would you ask them?
How does it feel to be dead? Does it feel? Some people claim to communicate with the dead. In my book Some of Me, I had live and dead people debating fashion and aesthetics. I included my parents, and some people believed I actually talked to them. At one book signing, this group of women was looking at me intensely. When they came up to me, they said, "You see them too?" For me, it was just fantasy.
Your film is surreal--you depict your father as a jiggling belly that speaks.
He was quite fat. When I was little, he told me he envied women. He said that if he could be pregnant, there would be a reason for the big belly, instead of just being fat. I wanted to make him godlike in the film--a symbol rather than a person. It was comical, but I thought it was also an appropriate way to depict my dad.
Your twin sister Isotta, a literature professor, said it was "inappropriate."
I didn't expect the public attack. We haven't spoken about it. I don't think I'm being disrespectful--I'm being playful. Some people are used to seeing my father academically--my sister comes from a more academic world. But not everything should be told in an academic way.
Your dad's films can seem quite academic. Did you always enjoy them?
No. Sometimes I found them difficult and slow. At times it looks like nothing's happened. But you have to look with a different eye. We're so used to going to the cinema and being told: Now you cry, now a moment of suspense. It's passive, and you take the ride.
Do any recent films remind you of your father's neorealist style of moviemaking?
In a way, Crash. It tells a story that is very dramatic, but very subtle. You understand how racism flows through people who don't see themselves as racist. It's not flashy. It's not done for entertainment. It's done for thinking.
Whom do you see as an heiress to your mother Ingrid Bergman?
Julia Roberts is probably the closest. There's a naturalness about her. She's approachable, a good girl--beautiful, but not in an intimidating way. She's not pretentious. I think Julia would be the one.