BERGMAN ISLAND’s Intricate Maze

Director Mia Hansen-Løve crafts a celebration of the Swedish director that keeps her own flavor

Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth in BERGMAN ISLAND.

During an early dinner scene in Bergman Island, a character says of the Swedish auteur, “Bergman was as cruel in his art as in his life.” This and other comments made at the dinner lead the viewer to realize that this film from Mia Hansen-Løve will not be an uncomplicated ode to Ingmar Bergman. Filmmakers Chris (Vicky Krieps, The Phantom Thread) and Tony (Tim Roth, Lie to Me) venture to the island, where Bergman once wrote and filmed, for a short residency in one of his cottages. They hope to be inspired by their surroundings.

While Tony hosts a screening of one of his films and takes the Bergman Safari, a tour bus that navigates the island, Chris has more of an adventurous streak. She’s led to a beach by a student and fan of her work and later cycles in vain to find a house that doesn’t exist anymore. She stumbles across Tony’s notebook and feels less confident about her own tentative project, which she then tells her partner about. And this is where Bergman Island turns into something more.

As in Hong Sang-Soo’s In Another Country (2012), we hear a fictional director talking about her idea for a film while performers act the scenes out. Mia Wasikowska (Stoker, Crimson Peak) is Chris’s main character Amy, rekindling a flame with Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie, Oslo August 31st) during a wedding weekend… on the same island the filmmakers are currently on. This twist and more to follow give Mia Hansen-Løve’s film a depth and mystery that the first part of the work offered no hint of.

The soul of Bergman Island is this film-within-a-film, where the stakes for Chris’s characters seem more consequential than our limited time with Chris and Ron allowed us a glimpse of. A Mia Hansen-Løve movie moment that remains with me is Isabelle Huppert’s Nathalie singing “À La Claire Fontaine” to her new grandchild in Things to Come. The director has yet again created such a memorable musical scene, this time featuring Amy letting herself go to ABBA’s “Winner Takes It All.” Reader: I rewound my screener to watch it twice.

While Bergman Island starts off slow, by the end, I was fully immersed in the story. The unusual time line of the storytelling, and the unexpected method of it, fascinates the viewer. The film is a quiet dedication to the art of filmmaking, from an artist’s conception of an idea to the production itself. And even a Bergman novice such as I can appreciate that.

Bergman Island is currently out in theaters and will be available on VOD starting Fri, Oct. 22.

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