Bergman Island was reviewed at the 2021 Heartland International Film Festival. It opens in limited release on Friday, Oct. 15.
Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island is an uplifting drama about the positive power of loving film, which seems counter-intuitive because most movies about filmmakers experiencing some level of creative and personal crisis tend to dive into navel-gazing melodrama — so much so that a lot of the tension in Bergman Island comes from wondering just how quickly the relationship between Chris (Vicky Krieps) and her husband, Tony (Tim Roth), will dissolve. It’s a film that pays tribute to the director of Scenes from a Marriage, after all. However, that’s not to be. Rather than a sharp story about things falling apart, Bergman Island is a thoughtful, multi-layered character piece about a filmmaker contemplating her future as an artist, mother and woman.
The story opens with the couple traveling to the Swedish Island of Fårö during Bergman Week, a festival celebrating director Ingmar Bergman, the island’s most famous inhabitant, who lived, died and filmed many of his most notable films there. Tony is a more successful filmmaker than Chris, more self-assured in the future of his career. He’s a featured speaker at the week’s events, and the two of them plan to spend their time on the island finding inspiration for new projects and basking in the creative presence of their inspiration’s spirit. Their plans soon diverge, though, as Chris finds herself choosing to wander the island on her own terms.
So the two of them have their own experiences. Tony keeps to himself when not at speaking events, where he politely brushes off fans. Chris skips the official Bergman Safari (a tour of the island) on short notice, leaving Tony concerned. The drama between them is exceptionally low-stakes, though. Their only disagreements play out in the shorthand and playful passive-aggression developed over any long relationship.
Soon, Chris starts to develop a new idea. She tells Tony the outline, and Hansen-Løve’s film takes a metafictional turn, following Amy (Mia Wasikowska), whose love affair on an island “similar to this” acts as part straightforward love story, part allegory for Chris’s own internal experiences attempting to balance her love of filmmaking and her life outside of it. The lines between Chris and Amy’s stories start to blur as locations and characters bleed between them. There’s a moment where Amy dances to ABBA’s “The Winner Takes it All,” a bit on the nose for the moment in her story but, given the context, also a delightful Swedish cultural multiplier.
For devotees of Bergman’s work, Bergman’s Island references his works in ways both overt and subtle. Importantly, though, it’s very much its own thing specific to Hansen-Løve. It’s not out of the question to wonder how much of these two women’s lives reflects her lived experience given her former relationship with director Olivier Assayas, but it doesn’t feel confessional or overtly autobiographical. At one juncture, Tony and Chris remark that storytellers only have one real story that they tell through different lenses. Bergman Island is basically a version of that principle. It’s a charming and personal story about understanding our creative influences and the way we let them shape us.