An international film in every sense, ‘Bergman Island’ is Mia Hansen-Løve’s tender ode to Ingmar Bergman and lost loves.
Mia Hansen-Løve is a hero of arthouse cinema, despite being only 41 and making only half a dozen features before this year. She’s gotten international attention for features such as Eden (featuring a pre-Lady Bird Greta Gerwig) and the Isabelle Huppert-starring Things to Come. And now, with her most self-reflective and creative film to date, Hansen-Løve seems to have perfected her own art form with Bergman Island, a movie about moviemaking and a romance about friendship.
Hansen-Løve’s first English-language film, Bergman Island follows two filmmakers who share a love of Ingmar Bergman but differ in fame, age, and perspective. They make a pilgrimage to the titular “Bergman Island,” a Swedish locale named Fårö that was once home to Ingmar Bergman. Bergman’s legacy looms over Chris (Vicky Krieps) and her partner Tony (Tim Roth) as they each attempt to work on new features. Tony is a much more renowned filmmaker, brought to Fårö to present one of his most beloved films. Chris, meanwhile, is less known but still has her fans. Tony is commercial, while Chris is almost too specific.
Chris and Tony never really discuss their relationship issues, and their daughter is not on the island with them. Instead, their conversation almost always floats around the idea of writing and filmmaking. Tony can bang out a script with barely a sweat, but Chris can hardly get beyond the first page of her script. Other forms of conversation are almost always related to Ingmar Bergman himself. The joke “New York is almost like a character” comes to mind with how heavily Bergman haunts the film. His movies are shown, and his shooting locations are toured; hell, Chris and Tony even sleep in a bed used in Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage! Bergman brings Chris and Tony to Fårö and keeps them together, yet different perspectives on creativity separate the two.
Hansen-Løve brings some of herself and her relationship with filmmaker Olivier Assayas (Clouds of Sils Maria, Wasp Network) on screen. Bergman’s narrative techniques and concepts of legacy and ghost are themes shared as well. But the tinkling score and windblown shots and very light humor are all Hansen-Løve’s alone. A shot of Vicky Krieps on a beach throwing jellyfish at an admirer of her craft (a bond best left on screen and not described) couldn’t be found in Bergman.
What most separates Bergman Island from other films that you will see from Hansen-Løve or at the New York Film Festival, in general, is just how internationally the film is built. The film is shot in Sweden, directed by a French woman, starring an Australian, a German, a Norwegian, and a Brit. The international atmosphere of the film is brought into the text as well, with language barriers aplenty. One moment that really caught my attention was Chris’s writing in English, despite Krieps and the character both being raised speaking German in childhood homes. Yet Chris speaks English around everyone in the film save for a call to her mother and even writes in English. It recalls Hansen-Løve’s own role in the movie, but also an issue that occasionally affected Bergman in filmmaking. That said, there is one international aspect to Sweden that is shared across the world and is put into one memorable Bergman Island scene, and that’s the sweet sound of ABBA.
Bergman Island’s most clever narrative conceit involves the characters played by Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie, but it is better to see than to explain. Wasikowska is wonderful as Amy, and Lie is an enigma waiting to be solved. But this is the story of Chris. Sure, Tim Roth delivers one of his characteristically charming performances as Tony, but Vicky Krieps steals the show from her co-stars. We see what makes Chris love Bergman and what Chris wants to understand from her time at Fårö. Chris comments on the iffy romantic politics of Bergman and on issues with film obsession and the oppressiveness of beauty in nature. Whether or not Chris is supposed to feel like Mia Hansen-Løve or not is similarly irrelevant. Chris’s story is the story of Bergman Island, both the film and the island, and Hansen-Løve has built a Bergman riff that shows just why we love that nihilistic Swede so much.
In other words: Get your boarding passes to Bergman Island as soon as you can.