A relationship drama, razor sharp character study and a poignant portrait of the overlapping of life and art and the blurring fiction and autobiography, “Bergman Island” is a sumptuous addition to writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve’s already impressive body of work.
The setting is Faro Island where Swedish director Ingmar Bergman lived, worked and shot many of his famous films. But Hansen-Løve isn’t trying for homage or even for her own “Bergmanesque” movie. Her work is far too original for that. Instead, she’s created a story about life and art with tender insight, humor and without a whiff of pretension.
The island is where married filmmakers Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth) arrive to work, leaving their daughter back home. Tony clearly is the better known of the couple. He conducts a master class, hosts a screening of his horror opus and signs autographs for gushing fans who tell him how much his work means to them. Chris, meanwhile, labors over a screenplay and worries that the specter of an artist like Bergman will be more intimidating than inspiring. Yet Bergman’s presence on the remote island is inescapable for surprising reasons. There’s understated humor in how some inhabitants are bored by the fascination with Bergman and others who treat him merely as a boon to tourism such as the Bergman Safari that attracts a mix of people including insufferable Bergman scholars. In one pointed scene, Chris and Tony joke about their uneasiness sleeping in the bed used in “Scenes From a Marriage.” Later, they visit the island’s plush screening room where the projectionist suggests “Cries and Whispers” but reminds them that they’re forbidden to sit in Bergman’s favorite seat.
As she worries about repeating herself in her work, Chris recounts for her (annoyingly) distracted husband the script she’s been working on, a romantic drama set on Faro. We’re then treated to a film within film: Chris’s stand-in is Amy (a terrific Mia Wasikowska) who leaves her young daughter and arrives on Faro for the wedding of a friend. Amy plans to rekindle a youthful romance with Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie), who’s also left his life behind and arrived on Faro. All matters of the heart and art collide over the next couple of days, conveyed by many piercing moments such as Amy dancing to Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All” then bicycling home in a fury to meet the elusive Joseph. Both stories come full circle as Chris reappears, now looking quite like Amy, and her film wraps and the actors must say goodbye.
One can see traces in “Bergman Island” of Hansen-Løve’s other memorable films including “Goodbye, First Love” and the exquisite “Things to Come.” But “Bergman Island” is so original, sophisticated and delicate that it both compliments and advances all that she’s done before.