Bergman Island (2021)

  • Spotlight Event: Narrative Feature
  • Director: Mia Hansen-Løve
  • Screenwriter: Mia Hansen-Løve
  • Producers: Charles Gillibert, Erik Hermmendorff, Rodrigo Teixeira
  • Cast: Vicki Krieps, Tim Roth, Mia Wasikowska, Anders Danielsen Lie

Premise: A couple of American filmmakers retreat to the mythical Fårö island for the summer. In this wild, breathtaking landscape where Ingmar Bergman lived and shot his most celebrated pieces, they hope to find inspiration for their upcoming films.

Here’s a tidbit that I’m a little embarrassed to admit: I’ve never seen a single film from Ingmar Bergman. I also haven’t been watching the current HBO miniseries revival of Scenes from a Marriage with Oscar Isaac and Jessica Chastain. Given that, I was a little apprehensive when first approaching the newest film from writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve. Would this be similar to an MCU film, where diehard fans of the source material are rewarded with Easter Eggs and winking references? Thankfully, even though his presence can (very consciously) be felt throughout Bergman Island, it’s not a necessity to be familiar with the prolific Swedish master in order to enjoy the film’s subtle greatness.

The film focuses on a couple – both filmmakers themselves – who vacation to Bergman’s small getaway island of Fårö in search of inspiration for their next films. Even without knowing Bergman’s work, it’s immediately easy to see once they arrive on the island how someone could be so inspired by its idyllic beauty. The creative process is a difficult thing to portray, especially when it involves an internal process like writing a film. The film even doubles as a sort of meta pretext from Hansen-Løve’s perspective as she reflects on her own struggles to make another film. Chris is Hansen-Løve’s surrogate, played by Vicki Krieps, who opts to spend her days writing in a fanciful empty windmill, leaving Tony (Tim Roth) alone to work in their rented cottage. It’s not long before Hansen-Løve begins to explore the couple’s differing approaches to working. Whereas Chris toils away, tinkering with the clock in her room or going on an extended excursion to find a new pen, Tony has already cranked out a 100+ page script before the film’s halfway point.

Chris and Tony’s differences manifest themselves in a delightful sequence where they split up to explore the island: she goes off with a young student to experience the vistas more naturally, immersing herself in it. Tony embarks on a guided tour where he’s given pointed history lessons of everything Bergman saw and touched. Where most films would use this as a springboard to uncover their marital drama, Hansen-Løve uses it to simply highlight their outlooks on how they take in their influences. The scenes are lyrical and quiet, allowing Krieps and Roth to establish their characters in understated ways. I fear that audiences that are even less familiar than I with Bergman’s life and work will feel like the first half of Bergman Island plays like an extended Wikipedia article, though Hansen-Løve at least fills these moments with plenty of interesting character details.

Bergman Island may not be the most accessible film of 2021 – and not just because of the extended homages and references to its namesake. Hansen-Løve avoids narrative tropes that most filmmakers would use to divide Chris and Tony; there are no extended shouting matches or hidden agendas to be found. Rather, Hansen-Løve uses the film to deepen our understanding of the creative process and its difficulties. Audiences may be further alienated during the third act, when Hansen-Løve shifts the story entirely, as Chris begins to spell out her newest film idea to Tony and those scenes are depicted by Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie. On the surface, this detour feels like it grinds Chris and Tony’s arc to a halt, but Hansen-Løve continues to explore the themes at play throughout the first two acts.

Wasikowska and Danielsen Lie play Amy and Joseph, respectively. She is a budding filmmaker, voyaging to the island to attend a friend’s wedding, where she meets him. The two begin a fleeting romance, doomed from the start – for a few reasons, which I won’t spoil – but no less passionate. These scenes contain the same unspoken whimsy that the rest of the film does, and Hansen-Løve treats them as extensions of Chris’s self-image. It’s certainly no coincidence that Wasikowska and Danielsen Lie could easily be seen as younger versions of Krieps and Roth. The third act could be seen as Chris’ regrets about her early career manifested, but I saw them as extensions of Hansen-Løve’s theme throughout the film, of wanting something that’s just out of reach, whether it be a creative spark, or an old romantic flame, or the fame and success of a great filmmaker.

Bergman Island contains no easy answers, which will likely only add to the frustrations with mainstream viewers. The ending especially feels unique, in that it doesn’t necessarily wrap up the story neatly and tidily as you’d expect in most films. Krieps, Roth, Wasikowsa, and Danielsen Lie are all reliable presences, imbuing their characters with enough realness to sympathize with, but this is not a performance-heavy film with sweeping monologues or external strife. No matter, Mia Hansen-Løve has crafted a personal film that speaks with profound honesty about the creative process, and in doing so, has done something that has become increasingly rare in today’s film landscape.

Bergman Island will be screening as a Spotlight Event at the Kan Kan Cinema & Brasserie on October 11 at 7:00PM. Tickets can be purchased in advance here.

Bergman Island will be released in theaters everywhere on October 15.


Ben headshotAbout the Writer: Ben Sears is a life-long Indianapolis resident, husband, and father of two boys, as well as a contributing writer on ObsessiveViewer.com and recurring co-host on The Obsessive Viewer Podcast. Aside from watching movies and television, Ben enjoys photography (bensearsphotography.com) and running marathons, but never at the same time. That would be difficult.

 

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