Bergman Island (2021)

London Film Festival 8th October 2021

Director Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island is a nicely interwoven drama set around a couple played by Tim Roth and Vicky Kreips who take a writing holiday on the Faro Island in Sweden, the home of director Ingmar Bergman where he made several of his films and raised his family. I came across this film while looking through the festival programme and as it starred Tim Roth I thought this would be an interesting film to watch. Having placed both The Seventh Seal (1957) and Wild Strawberries (1958) in my top 25 film list, the whole Bergman background thing might be worth getting into as he was as complex outside of his movie making as within his film making. The film itself a follows a one solid pace throughout, nothing hurried, but also not so slow as to lose the audience within the narrative and cinematography. Hansen-Løve both directed and wrote the screenplay and I imagine that she has some affinity with Bergman. There are several scenes with both gushing film students and ardent Bergman fans waxing lyrical about him, which I indespsereded throughout the films narrative. Hansen-Løve is not trying to ‘copy’ if you like, any of Bergmans style of directing or storytelling, but part of her film is a love letter to him as a director and as a family man who actually could not fulfil the role of the dutiful father.
Within the film, real life museum guides and associates of Bergman try to explain his motives, rationales and what he may have been like as a human being, all through his museum, small cinema and the people who inhabit the island.

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Tim Roth plays Tony, a British director and fan of Bergman who travels with his partner and screenwriter Chris as they both arrive at Faro to spend sometime at Bergman’s house to find inspiration and to seek some kind of creative fulfilment. Tony also has a retrospective of his work playing at the Cinema too, so he has to be on the lecture circuit with avid students and scholars of the Cinema. Meanwhile Vicky is trying to finish her screenplay for her next film, all the while wishing that her daughter was with her and also questioning the very existence of her relationships and the impact of of what might happen if she was not around. The cinematography fully captures the peace and beauty of the island, from the windmill near Bergman’s house to the costal waters, all the way to the hostel retreats that appear mid way through the film.

The film itself is literally three plots in total, beginning with Tony and Chris arriving at the house of Faro and their writings and musings while they separately work on their respective projects. At the mid point of the film, a new story appears as introduced by Chris as she explains Tony how her screenplay unfolds and how she is struggling to finish her story to her satisfaction. Then finally both the real-life and Chris’ screenplay come together to form a third strand to the storytelling which is unexpected, maybe contrived as there is no lead in, but, why not? Would probably vie the answer.
Roth is always watchable and this role is actually very good for him as he is not playing a broken, evil, off centre character, but a successful director of merit who seems to be tired of what he is doing, and he is pretty likeable too. Kreip’s character is the more interesting of the two as she has this free spirit vibe that she tries to suppress most of the time, but there are moments that she takes herself off into her own world. As her screenplay come to life on screen, you do wonder wether it is as self referential story or not.

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The three part story, revolving around Tony and Chris, both filmmakers who retreat to the aforementioned Bergman Island to write, discover and reject their life conventions, all the while being surrounded by Bergman’s influences and ideals. The second part of the film has Mia Washowski and Anders Danielsen Lie Playing Amy and Joseph, two ex-lovers who meet again at a mutual friends wedding. This is Chris’ screenplay, turned into an actual film, as she narrates her screenplay too Tony. Amy still holds a candle for Joseph, while he is indifferent to her, though he wants to make love to her, he does not see a future with her and so there are tears upsets and dramatic showdown as the two lovers cannot come to terms with each other’s moods and attitudes. The final part of the film blends both the story arc of Tony & Chris and Amy & Joseph as a third storyline brings the screenplay to an actual final days shooting as the principle actors (Washowski and Lie leave the set, saying goodbye to Chris. This seems a tack on to the films storyline by Mia Hansen-Løve, and you could argue a clumsy one, but it is not. It works on a level as to re-awaken the audience so that they have not lost interest in what is going on on the screen. This is a long film and over two hours, so as the paced is measured, it is fitting to change it up a little, just to say, ‘are you paying attention’ and get the audience back on track.

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I for one, enjoyed the film. It was engaging enough not to be in your face, it had a consistent pace and did not veer from laconic to frenetic. It has a long running time, but that seems to work in the films favour. Tim Roth is always watchable and as mentioned, he is not playing another broken character, but he still holds the your attention on screen. If you are looking for a measured, not to diversive film which has some beautiful landscapes, Bergman Island is worth seeking out.

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