BERGMAN ISLAND – Review by Diane Carson

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Bergman Island pays homage to Ingmar Bergman’s Fårö Island

Invoking multiple references to iconic Swedish director Ingmar Bergman sets writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve’s film Bergman Island up for an inevitable comparison with that revered legend’s work. In fact, as Hansen- Løve says in a press interview, her interpersonal drama, taking place entirely on Bergman’s beloved Fårö Island, is “haunted by his work and his presence,” as reflected throughout her film.

In addition to the title, both Chris and Tony are filmmakers. She’s stumped as a writer; he’s grappling with his directing challenges. Both look for inspiration where Bergman shot exceptional films and lived his later years. In her exploration, Chris visits Bergman’s home/museum and invokes his films, including buying sunglasses like Bibi Andersson’s in Persona. Moreover, she and Tony sleep in the bed from Bergman’s 1973 Scenes from a Marriage, among other references.

However, nothing here approaches Bergman’s profound existential conflicts and spiritual interrogations. Instead, this couple, that arrives by ferry on Fårö Island as the film begins and leaves at the conclusion, confronts a more modern problem, marital intimacy and, for Chris, finding her voice and identity, a critical issue but lacking the depth of Bergman’s overpowering soul-searching. That is not to minimize Chris tenaciously grappling with paralyzing self-doubt moving toward confidence in her abilities. Hansen- Løve writes that Bergman Island is “about emancipation from our masters, but also about a woman’s emancipation from a man,” adding that Chris, “who considers herself as vulnerable and dependent, finds out about her own creative force.”

The pace at which this happens feels entirely realistic though also slow. The conceit that adds complexity involves Chris’ script dramatizing a lost love of a young woman not unlike herself in a previous liaison. That narrative, called The White Dress, both reflects her strengthening imagination and is presented on screen, with the real and fictionalized worlds merging. This heightens interest even though that melodrama sidesteps unnerving confrontations that would give it psychological power.

As Tony, Tim Roth gives his always reliable, convincing presentation. But the weight of the story rests with Vicky Krieps as Chris and, secondarily, Mia Wasikowska as Amy, Chris’ surrogate in her script. Both deliver solid performances that keep Bergman Island engaging though not terribly exciting.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.