Review: Bergman Island (2021)


Bergman Island (2021)

Directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve | 113 minutes | drama | Actors: Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, Grace Delrue, Mia Wasikowska, Anders Danielsen Lie, Hampus Nordenson, Clara Strauch, Joel Spira, Teodor Abreu

When a couple, both working in the film industry, travel to the Swedish island of Fårö, also known as Bergman Island, for inspiration, the terms of their relationship are rearranged. It is no coincidence that Bergman Island, the permanent location of the famous filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, serves as the primary location. Although the two main characters seem happy with each other at the start of the film, the island exposes a previously subconscious mental struggle that demonstrates the inequality within their relationship. In other words, a typical recipe for a Bergman film.

So now first, in what can be seen as an irreverent attempt to interpret his entire oeuvre, a little more about the man who is known as a modernist, cinematographic non-conformist. Although he comes from the theater, he soon masters all facets of film. Bergman can therefore be seen as an exponent of author’s cinema. Many of his films focus on the relationship between two people. Whether it’s two lovers, a nurse and patient or a child and his stepfather, all objective relationships begin in a status quo that gradually derails into illusionary film realities.

This transition is accompanied by, often personal, dreams, memories, feelings of guilt and fantasies. At first glance, Bergman’s films may appear plot-wise on the simple, theatrical side, but beneath the surface there is a slumbering, emotional tension. An intriguing, voyeuristic tension is hidden for the film viewer who lets the emotion in. The sets of his films, often situated on the aforementioned island of Fårö, are a physical manifestation of it: bare on the outside, but whoever looks further sees the scars. The darkness. The suffering. Only the illusion offers a possible way out.

This setting is also the scene of action in ‘Bergman Island’. Better than that, the island can be seen as a guiding character. A ghost, that of Bergman himself, which years later still wants to exert its influence on the environment. Before that, there seems to be little going on for lead actors Tony (Tim Roth) and Chris (Vicky Krieps), both working on their own film project. In the plane trip to Sweden, hubby saves his wife from her fear of flying. And when she forgets her sunglasses, he hands over his without any problem. It may all look a bit patriarchal, but it is based on presentable love. But then the couple arrives at their destination by boat.

The emphasis on the journey shows that the world they enter will be a different one. Soon after their arrival, completely unconsciously, the first cracks become visible. When the landlord of their house says that the film Bergman made there caused a record number of divorces, the two can only laugh about it. Even if Chris indicates that he prefers to work in a nearby mill, no alarm bells go off. The woman simply has a little more trouble throwing off her writer’s block.

As the days go on, and they learn more about the island and its illustrious main resident, Bergman’s mind becomes more and more. Cinematographically, ‘Bergman Island’ is also indebted to its namesake. The recurring door symbolism, as a passage to the inner world of the main characters, is a typical example of this. But the Bergman brilliance is greatest in Chris’s personal development. In her efforts to get something down on paper, she seems to succumb to the pressure the island puts on her. When the contours of her scenario become more firmly defined, the viewer becomes a part of that story. Like a movie within a movie, yet another droste effect, ‘Bergman Island’ switches to Chris’ narration. A piece of fiction that slowly flows back into the world of Chris and Tony.

Although the basis of ‘Bergman Island’, man and woman lose themselves in a foreign country, is simple, the film still has the necessary depth. By choosing Chris’s perspective, the balance shifts to a more reflective side, without taking on the role of a weak wife. The further the film progresses, the more she manages to shed the yoke of passivity. What remains is a woman who not only manages to find herself in her relationship with her husband, but also conquers Ingmar Bergman’s island. This personal journey is sometimes a bit schematic, even to the point of stiffness, but at the end it offers the viewer the necessary reflection to keep the mind busy. By turning suffering into suffering, ‘Bergman Island’ may lack some of the darkness and pessimism of the former filmmaker himself, but that does not make the film any less interesting.