Mia Hansen-Løve’s new film “Bergman Island” is a gentle and playful drama which will amuse and delight you if you are admire the works of both the director and Ingmar Bergman. While often mentioning Bergman’s life and career, the movie also sensitively focuses on what is happening to and around its heroine, and we gladly go along with that even when it shifts itself a bit into what she has been struggling to create.
The movie is set in Fårö, a big Baltic Sea island of Sweden which incidentally was the main staying place for Bergman. Besides living there for several decades, Bergman often shot some of his great films such as “Through Glass, Darkly” (1961) and “Shame” (1968) there, and, as shown from the film, the island has been a well-known tourist spot with many of Bergman’s private places having been preserved fairly well since he passed away in 2007.
In the beginning, the movie opens with a filmmaker couple arriving in Fårö for some respite and, of course, creative inspiration. While Tony (Tim Roth) is looking forward to having a good time there, Chris (Vicky Krieps) is not so sure about that from the start, and we later observe how different they are in case of their respective opinions on Bergman’s life and career. While Tony is your average hardcore Bergman fan, Chris is not exactly enthusiastic about Bergman’s works, and she also makes a critical point on Bergman’s messy personal life when she and Tony have a little conversation with others at one point.
Anyway, under the tranquil ambiance of the island, both Tony and Chris embark on writing separately, but Chris cannot help but feel frustrated as her writing does not go that well in contrast to Tony. He turns out to be writing much more than her when she looks into his notebook during his absence, and she finds herself becoming more distant to him as she comes to prefer to be alone for a while. He is eager to do some tour around the island, but she simply wants to walk around here and there without anyone, and that is how she later happens to come across a nice lad willing to provide some guide for her.
While Hansen-Løve’s screenplay leisurely moves from one episodic moment to another, the movie gradually immerses us into the quiet and soothing mood of the island, and it occasionally amuses us as showing various spots associated with Bergman’s life and career. If you are quite familiar with his notable works including “Persona” (1966) and “Scenes from a Marriage” (1973), you may easily recognize some of them with a bit of amusement, and I will not deny that I was tickled a little as observing Tony and Chris in Bergman’s private screening room for watching “Cries and Whisperers” (1972), which is certainly not as feel-good as Chris hopes.
It is not much of a spoiler to tell you that Chris finally comes to have a nice story idea, but then the movie takes an interesting narrative turn as she and Tony discuss about how she should end her story, which is mainly about two ex-lovers coming to the island for a wedding. Although they have been distant to each other since their breakup, Amy (Mia Wasikowska) and Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie) cannot help feel attracted to each other again as they come to spend more time between them, and, of course, their unexpected romantic situation comes to evoke those chamber drama films of Bergman. They do feel happy as rekindling their old romance, but then they are also reminded of the emotional gap still remaining between them, and that is where Chris is hesitating about what to do with her two main characters next.
Well, all I can tell you for now is that Chris eventually finds a rather neat way to end her story, and that brings some extras amusement for us. In case of the ending outside her story, a number of things remained unresolved between Chris and Tony even during the very last shot, but that is pretty much like how life goes on for many of us, and we smile a bit as seeing Chris having a little happy moment of hers.
Hansen-Løve also draws well-rounded performances from her four main performers. As the first pair in the story, Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth are smooth and effortless as conveying to us a sense of shared life between their characters, and Krieps, a Luxembourgish actress who has been more prominent during last several years since her terrific breakthrough turn in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread” (2017), deftly handles her character’s emotional arc along the story as ably supported by Roth. In case of Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie, they also hold each own place well on the story besides having enough chemistry between them on the screen, and they also have a little fun with their parts when the movie steps back a bit from their characters’ drama around the ending.
In my inconsequential opinion, “Bergman Island” is one or two steps below what Hansen-Løve achieved in “Father of My Children” (2009) and “Things to Come” (2016), but it is still engaging for its solid storytelling and enjoyable performances. Although it could delve a little deeper into its main subjects, the movie made me reflect a bit on why and how I have admired Bergman’s many works since I watched “Wild Strawberries” (1957) on TV in the early 2000s, and I appreciate that as also coming to hope to visit Fårö someday. That is virtually impossible for now for the reason we all know, but I include that in my trivial bucket list at least, you know.