Bergman Island is Mia Hansen-Løve’s best and most intimate film; it takes a meta-textual route to deliver a brilliantly written and structured testimony of the cursed writer’s block as well as slowly gnawing dysfunctional relationships.
An American couple, Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth), go on a trip to the famous Fårö island, which inspired Ingmar Bergman to write and direct many of his famous works. They are there for the summer to write the scripts for their subsequent films in the act of pilgrimage, seclusion, and the search for creativity. As they advance with their screenplays, fiction and reality start to merge with love, lust, and loneliness on the silhouettes of the island’s beautiful landscape.
Mia Hansen-Løve doesn’t succumb to the archetypes of dramatic filmmaking– she tells her tales with a personal touch on different philosophies of love, aging, passion, and other aspects of life, causing it to be more effective emotionally and have a bigger punch. In her latest feature, she dwells in self-references while being delicate and erudite. Her writing has always been intricate yet tough as nails when the scene she constructs needs to be. On Fårö, you feel the presence of Bergman in the atmosphere, however, Hansen-Løve had to find her version of the island, one in which she could reflect on her own thoughts and not succumb to Bergman’s.
Bergman Island displays how you want things to go versus how things will intertwine within the search for creativity. “It’s about how invisible things circulate within a couple,” as Tony says about his next project; it juxtaposes with the movie, which, in itself, is inside another one. That’s where the self-referential and zealous strands come from. Chris’ next body of work comes to life. The lead characters in that narrative are Amy (Mia Wasikowska) and Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie), who mirror her relationship, with quite a few romantic exceptions. Her adoring fantasies blur the lines between fables and reality.
Some moments are sly and, in a sense, quiet due to Hansen-Løve’s subtle direction that works perfectly with its environment. But don’t get confused with its title, the film doesn’t copy the atmosphere or tonnage of Ingmar Bergman’s filmography. Instead, it sets its creative path and settles down into an aromatic affair of two stories fusing: one is the harsh reality of life with its ups and downs while the other is the story in your head that you’d want to create and, in a sense, want to live in.
Taking the elements that made Things to Come (2016) work and adding whip-smart writing gives Bergman Island many different layers. Within those layers, there are great performances from the cast all-around. Vicky Krieps keeps surprising us with her majestic talent proving, once again, that she is a force to be reckoned with by blending charm with anxiousness. However, Mia Wasikowska is the scene-stealer as the starlet of Chris’ story, and her scene dancing to ABBA brought me so much joy.
It is all about the central themes that we see in movies (love, lust, and connection), yet some strings are attached to make it more poignant. The ending to this “Bergman Safari” might be a tad perplexing, as it resolves its conflicts peripherally; nonetheless, Mia Hansen-Løve crafts her films with care while still bold in her structure, pacing, and script. Bergman Island handles its topics in a manner that isn’t too “light and breezy” nor goes in for the theatrical— it’s an illusory meditation on romance and creativity and how it manages to affect you in different ways.
Hector Gonzalez is a Puerto Rican chemical engineering student and film critic with a great passion for cinema, award shows, 1960s music, and the horror genre. Some of his favorite films are RAW, Eyes Without a Face, and The Green Ray.