Review: Bergman Island

Mia Hansen-Løve delivers her own take on Adaptation with Bergman Island.  Asking many complex questions without answers, the film is a love letter to inspirational art as well as the personal and creative struggles artist endure.

Chris (Vicki Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth) are both filmmakers as well as a couple.  The pair arrive at Fårö, the island where legendary director Ingmar Bergman lived and worked.  Tony is inspired by the island, while Chris is ambivalent.

Tony is screening his newest film, while Chris is suffering from writer’s block and misses their daughter.  All the while, the couple takes in the sights of the island.  They talk about Bergman’s films, his failings as a human, and how it relates to his art.

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Elsewhere on the island, former lovers Amy (Mia Wasikowska) and Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie) meet on the island for a wedding of mutual friends.  After a long period apart, the two find a renewed spark as they spend more time together.

As time passes, the lines between fiction and reality begin to blur.

Though Bergman is never actually personified in the film, his “ghost” hangs over everything.  While part of the island devotes their entire life to Bergman’s influences, the other half wants nothing to do with him.  Chris especially dislikes Bergman for his personal failings, specifically as a father.  While many excuse his shortcomings for the sake of his art, Chris can appreciate his films without absolving the human.

Chris’ writer’s block is at the forefront of her struggles.  As she sits in a quiet room, a clock bellows its ticks.  Tony is in another room with a creative vigor, but Chris can’t seem to breakthrough.  When the ticking clock becomes too much, Chris doesn’t slam the clock against the wall, she calmly removes the battery and sits in solitude.  What breaks you out of these struggles when nothing else can help?

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Amy’s story is steeped in history without viewing that history.  Amy and Joseph have two relationship eras prior to their reuniting on the island.  Joseph is never particularly cruel, but it’s clear that Amy is not his top priority.  Why is it that she continually finds her way back to him?  Does the initial love she once felt supersede her current feelings?

Most of these questions are just placed into the world without clear answers.  The lives of these characters are complex and the easy black-and-white solutions are not there.  This film dances in the gray areas and finds the inherent beauty in that mystery.

Hansen-Løve, in her English-language debut, obviously has a kindred connection to Chris and the audience could parallel Chris’ journey to the director.  At the film’s climax, there is a shift that opens the film into new territory and opens the filmmaker up to new horizons.

Krieps attracts much of the camera’s attention.  Much like her breakout role in Phantom Thread, her characterization is based on her reaction and push against the man in her life.  While a lesser actress could have emboldened Chris too harshly, Krieps keeps her fun and delicate, despite her struggles.

Roth has made a steady habit of embodying a character within an ensemble.  His character can appear as a blowhard, but his sincerity and gentleness allow for him to circumvent any villainous appearance.  Roth doesn’t do too much with the character and allows the other actors the chance to shine in his stead.

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Wasikowska doesn’t get much screentime, but she makes the absolute most of it.  Amy is a character full of worn experience, and Wasikowska is able to wear it despite her youthful face.  She is aware of the reality of her relationship with Joseph but still yearns to live in the fantasy of the time they are together.  Wasikowska conveys much more through her eyes than through her actions.

Lie’s role is the least sympathetic, but his easy-going characterization is founded on stoic respectability.  He never shows much of a personality to anyone outside of Amy, but his true nature hides the eventually revealed sleaze.

Bergman Island delivers an emotional journey of creative and personal struggle.  While the actors all perform exceptionally, this film is all about director Mia Hansen-Løve.  Utilizing parallels from her own life, she has woven a masterful story of longing and expectation that is highly recommended.

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