October 15th, 2021
MOVIE: BERGMAN ISLAND
STARRING: VICKY KRIEPS, TIM ROTH, MIA WASIKOWSKA, ANDERS DANIELSEN LIE
DIRECTED BY: MIA HANSEN-LOVE
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
During the pandemic in 2020 it became a year of Ingmar Bergman for myself. I went through the entire Criterion Collection of the Swedish director’s work and I arrived on the other side as an enthusiast, but also received my own mini-film school. The works of the director of Cries and Whispers, The Seventh Seal, Persona, and many others, has a variety of styles and skills that would benefit anyone looking to become a director or have a rich education in the artform. That same concept courses through Mia Hansen-Love’s Bergman Island, which is a story within a story, within a story, about a married couple that escapes to the Baltic sea island of Faro, which was the remote location for Bergman. It’s where he wrote his screenplays, his sanctuary, and now a married couple, both directors, escape to the island with hopes to conjure up the same artistic inspiration in Bergman Island. With visually calming settings and a trio of performances that feel incredibly human, Bergman Island has a way of getting the creative juices flowing.
Right off the bat, Bergman Island is gorgeous to look at, a slice of a vacation experience, wrapped in a getaway to find creative inspiration. The lead characters are Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth), parents to a little girl, laid back, and honest in their feelings about life. Tony is the more successful of the two, but both want to capture the entire Bergman experience, revisiting his home, the locations for his various films shot on the island, and attending a Bergman film festival to celebrate Tony’s work. Under the sunlit settings, Chris expresses that she’s had inspiration to write a screenplay, loosely based on her own life, but set it with the current background they inhabit. She proceeds to explain her script, where the narrative turns to Amy (Mia Wasikowska), a single woman, attending a friend’s wedding in Faro. One of the guests at the wedding is Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie), who happens to be Amy’s ex-boyfriend from her teenage years, and while at the wedding, the two reconnect romantically. Over the course of the story, we bounce back between Chris’ personal conflicts and the conflicts of her main character, which makes an engaging experience of an artist turning their facts into cinematic fiction.
What may be off putting to some is the way the narrative blends from Chris’ story to an interpretation of Amy, but what Hansen-Love does so well is not show where one ends and the other begins. It’s important to note that these two characters are the same, which leads to the subtext of what is going on in Chris’ life, her isolation in trying to create something, her creative process, a professional life stunted by being a mother, and the conflict of feeling comfortable in her life choices with Tony. It’s not that Hansen-Love villainizes any of the characters, in fact her writing is quite unique in the way the characters struggle with various difficulties, such as monogamy, lost love, and the choices made in the past which lead to where a person ends. Bergman Island is about the complexities of people, which is all things Bergman.
As far as the performances go it is the Vicky Krieps show in the first half and the Mia Wasikowska show that takes over. The Alice in Wonderland actor repeatedly brings a fascinating approach to a performance, with a charm and grace that makes the audience care about her emotional highs and heartbreaking lows over this weekend. It’s in the Krieps-Roth bits where Bergman Island lost a bit of praise from me. The narrative focus becomes the Amy story, which feels like it is running away from what Chris is experiencing in her own right. That also seems to be the intention for Hansen-Love, where Chris’ story becomes Amy’s story, which is Hansen-Love’s story. It’s a meta narrative centipede in a way.
There are minor factors that hold Bergman Island from becoming great and it’s still an incredibly genuine film. Visually the setting is gorgeous, but the cinematography is sometimes too stagnant. The performances are all equally great and yet the structure of the story isn’t enough like a Bergman film. This is a movie about the process of being an artist. The way that our lives and our art blend together. Mia Hansen-Love has made a film that Ingmar Bergman would be proud of in Bergman Island.
BERGMAN ISLAND IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND CURRENTLY PLAYING AT THE GENE SISKEL CENTER IN CHICAGO
Written by: Leo Brady