You don’t have to be an Ingmar Bergman scholar to benefit Bergman Island – now on VOD – but that might help. Mia Hansen-Love is writing and directing this movie about a couple of directors visiting a location where many great movies have been made, so they can focus on writing their own movies. So yes, there are layers, and if the promise of thematic depth doesn’t make you watch this quiet little drama, maybe you’ll be drawn to the idea of watching Vicky Krieps (who Phantom wire) organized an actor masterclass.
The essential: Chris (Krieps) doesn’t fly particularly well. Bandaged over her eyes, she rests her head in her husband Tony’s (Tim Roth) lap as their large propeller airliner lands in Sweden. They get into a car and drive to the ferry that takes them to the island of Fårö, where influential director Ingmar Bergman lived, wrote and shot his films. In our reality, Bergman wanted his home and workspaces to be open to other artists, and in Bergman Islandreality, Tony and Chris take advantage of it. A woman shows them around the house where they will be staying, and the room where they will sleep is the same room where Bergman shot scenes from Scenes from a wedding, “the film which divorced millions of people”, she underlines. Then she goes out with Tony to show him what to do to take out the trash, because Swedes are very serious about recycling.
Tony and Chris pull out their pens with replaceable ink cartridges, notebooks and computers and get into screenwriting, separately, on their own projects. It is very peaceful and calm and beautiful on the island. They watch a Bergman movie in Bergman’s private 35mm screening room and ride their bikes. A touch of background: they have a baby girl named June, who is back home with her grandmother. Tony is a fairly well-known director, he participates in a screening of one of his films and in a Q&A with admiring fans. They’re supposed to take the Bergman Safari together – yes, a bus tour of Bergman’s many dark and intimate dramas actually exists – but Tony ends up going alone while Chris enjoys an off-the-beaten-path tour thanks to a friendly youngster. student, Hampus (Hampus Nordenson), with whom she shares a bottle of cider and a not-quite-skinny dip.
Chris walks over to Tony’s desk when he’s not there and flips through his notebook, catching a glimpse of sketches of women in submissive BDSM poses. We later learn that this was a breach of privacy, as he never shares his work with her, although he at least says his new script deals with “things unseen between a couple”, which is so much Bergman on his part. However, she shares everything she writes with him, for example her current story, about Amy (Mia Wasikowska), who reunites with a former lover, Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie), when mutual friends marry on the island of Fårö, which tells us that the characters of Chris’ bride and groom are not Bergman fans or are big fans of irony. Bergman Island gets lost in Amy’s story, narrated by Chris, which has yet to find an end. Does he have one?
What movies will this remind you of? : All indie movies that remind you of Woody Allen movies that remind you of Ingmar Bergman movies.
Performances to watch: Krieps is here bewitching, pensive and contemplative, serious and open but always deeply immersed in a rich subtext.
Memorable dialogue: “Movies can be terribly sad. Hard. Violent. But in the end, they do you good. – you said it, Chris
Gender and skin: Female topless; equal opportunity back bottomless; some soft-R sex scenes.
Our opinion : You would be crazy not to examine Bergman Island in the context of Tony and Chris’s relationship. Werner Herzog calls it “place voodoo” – the perhaps inexpressible feeling one gets in a setting which, for lack of a better word, is “haunted” by what has happened there before. But what if this place is the setting for a fictitious marital discord? The fictitious marital discord that local legend dictates inspired fractured, non-fictional relationships? A fictional marital discord that may have been inspired by Bergman’s real-life experience? Bergman’s anecdote is part of the dialogue here: how he got married five times and divorced four times, had nine children with six wives; how he made 25 films at the age of 42 and was so captivated by his work that he didn’t have time for fatherhood; how one of his children didn’t even know he was their father for the first few years of their life.
Like I said – diapers. And obviously Chris’s script, the story within the story, adds other layers to Bergman Island, especially since the two narratives overlap, as Amy appears to be an extension of Chris, or perhaps more accurately, a piece of her buried deep within him. As Chris tells the story to Tony, we can interpret the visual presentation we see – Wasikowska and Lie playing the characters – as the reflection of his mind’s eye. Tony can’t see it, but we can. The level of intimacy we have with Chris suggests his deeper dissatisfaction with Tony and throws earlier scenes – one where he barely responds to what is clearly his sexual proposition, for example – in darker tones. Their partnership seems OK, with its bickering and troubled moments of benevolence and communication, but here they are on the hallowed ground of Bergman, where the legendary founder and creative cultivator of the place would surely insist they burn everything down.
Hansen-Love shows an extraordinary mastery of this complex material. She works closely with a performance by Krieps, achieving narrative clarity even as the main story and the story within the story visually and thematically overlap in a subtly intense third act. And yet the conclusion she comes to is incredibly suggestive; the collision of Bergman’s work in our reality with Chris’s fictional reality and Amy’s fictional fiction-in-reality is smeared and messy. Do not be afraid, Bergman Island is not yet a creaky film on itself, an ode to the art of cinema as the islander and indulgent man Where The artist (and far too many of them) – and let’s face it, any overt reference to Bergman’s films will only be picked up by the cinephile niche. No, it’s too smart to be too meta. He examines the pains of the creative process, especially when incorporating personal experiences like Chris’s, and the impact this art can have on relationships and on oneself. Remember, in the movie of life, true resolution is a myth.
Our call: Stream it. Bergman Island is a gripping and thoughtful drama fueled by strong writing and engaging performance by Krieps.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work on johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: @johnserba.
Where to stream Bergman Island