You don’t have to be a fan of the legendary director Ingmar Bergman to enjoy this film, but it certainly does help. In it a couple of American filmmakers, Chris (Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread) and Tony (Tim Roth, Selma, The Hateful Eight), take a summer trip to Fårö island in Sweden where Bergman lived and shot some of his best known movies. Both of them are hoping for some inspiration for the films they’re working on. One of Tony’s films is showing in the annual Bergman Week there, and he and Chris are in residence at the house where Bergman shot his award winning series Scenes from a Marriage, about the disintegration of a marriage. And while theirs doesn’t, it’s clearly seen better days.
Tony can’t give Chris the attention she seeks, so she goes off on her own, exploring the island and wrestling with her script about unrequited love that takes place conveniently on the island. About midway through the film her screenplay comes to life as she describes it to Tony. Amy (Mia Wasikowksa, Alice Through the Looking Glass , The Kids Are All Right) and Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie) are former lovers who’ve known one another since their teenage years, but can’t seem to get together. They meet again after many years at a wedding on the island. Both have partners, but Amy still has dreams of them getting it right this time. The film-within-a-film is essentially Chris telling Tony about the pain of loving without receiving what you need. And it’s the best part of the movie.
Bergman is definitely in the background throughout. Not just that the island is a mecca for Bergman lovers and a festival is taking place while they are there. The feel of some of the scenes and cinematography echo with his presence. Fortunately, writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve did not make an homage film, but a lighter, warmer film about artists in romantic relationships. There’s a dinner scene with a group of festival attendees where the discussion turns to Bergman and his many children with many women. Chris is bothered by the fact that he chose his art over his family. Tony shrugs it off. It’s just one of her disappointments with him.
Vicky Krieps is wonderful as Chris. It’s really her movie. Tim Roth is his usual great self, but it’s Chris who is grappling with her feelings about her work and the loss of spark in her relationship. Bergman Island is a lovely mediation on the creative process and the people who live it. It feels more art house than blockbuster, but should appeal to some folks in between, too.
[Mainstream Chick’s take: Bergman Island definitely leans way more arty than Mainstream, and it definitely helps to know Bergman and his films – which I do not. As I explained while hashing out the pros and cons in this episode of the Cinema Clash podcast! -hb]