Stream It or Skip It?
Information about Stream It or Skip It?
You don’t have to be an Ingmar Bergman scholar to enjoy Bergman Island — now on VOD — but it might help. Mia Hansen-Love writes and directs this film about a filmmaking couple visiting a place where many great films were made, so they can focus on writing their own films. So yes, it has layers, and if the promise of thematic depth doesn’t entice you to watch this quiet little drama, maybe you’ll be drawn in by the thought of watching Vicky Krieps (who OWNED Phantom Thread) put on an acting masterclass.
The Gist: Chris (Krieps) doesn’t fly particularly well. A bandanna over her eyes, she lays her head in her husband Tony’s (Tim Roth) lap as their large-prop passenger plane lands in Sweden. They get in a car and drive to the ferry which takes them to Fårö Island, where influential director Ingmar Bergman lived and wrote and shot his movies. In our reality, Bergman wanted his home and workspaces to be open to other artists, and in Bergman Island‘s reality, Tony and Chris take advantage of that. A woman gives them a tour of the house where they’ll be staying, and the bedroom where they’ll sleep is the same bedroom where Bergman shot scenes from Scenes from a Marriage, “the movie that made millions of people divorce,” she points out. Then she takes Tony out to show him what to do about taking out the garbage, since Swedes are very serious about recycling.
Tony and Chris get out their pens with replaceable ink cartridges and notebooks and computers and get to screenwriting, separately, on their own projects. It’s very still and quiet and beautiful on the island. They watch a Bergman film in Bergman’s private 35 mm screening room, and ride bicycles. A touch of background: they have a young daughter named June, who’s back home with her grandmother. Tony is a director of enough renown, he participates in a screening of one his films and a Q&A with adoring fans. They’re supposed to take the Bergman Safari together — yes, a bus tour of locations from Bergman’s many dark, intimate dramas actually exists — but Tony ends up going alone while Chris enjoys an off-the-beaten path tour thanks to a friendly young student, Hampus (Hampus Nordenson), with whom she shares a bottle of cider and a not-quite-skinny dip.
Chris walks up to Tony’s desk when he isn’t around and flips through his notebook, getting an eyeful of sketches of women in submissive BDSM poses. We later learn this was a bit of a privacy violation, because he never shares his work with her, although he at least says his new script is about “the invisible things between a couple,” which is so very Bergman of him. However, she shares everything she writes with him, case in point, her current story, about Amy (Mia Wasikowska), who reconnects with a former lover, Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie), when mutual friends get married right there on Fårö Island, which tells us Chris’ bride and groom characters are either not Bergman fans or are great irony fans. Bergman Island gets lost in the story of Amy, narrated by Chris, who hasn’t worked out an ending yet. Does it have one?
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: All of the indie movies that remind you of Woody Allen movies that remind you of Ingmar Bergman movies.
Performance Worth Watching: Krieps is entrancing here, pensive and contemplative, earnest and open but still deeply immersed in rich subtext.
Memorable Dialogue: “Movies can be terribly sad. Tough. Violent. But in the end, they do you good.” — you said it, Chris
Sex and Skin: Female toplessness; equal-opportunity rear bottomlessness; some soft-R sex scenes.
Our Take: You’d be a fool not to examine Bergman Island in the context of Tony and Chris’ relationship. Werner Herzog calls it the “voodoo of location” — the perhaps inexpressible feeling one gets while in a setting that, for lack of a better word, is “haunted” by what previously happened there. But what if that location is the setting of fictional marital discord? Fictional marital discord that local legend dictates inspired nonfictional fractured relationships? Fictional marital discord that may have been inspired by Bergman’s real-life experience? Bergman trivia is part of the dialogue here: How he was married five times and divorced four, had nine children with six women; how he made 25 films by age 42 and was so in thrall to his work, he had no time for fatherhood; how one of his children didn’t even know he was their father for the first several years of their life.
Like I said — layers. And obviously, Chris’ screenplay, the story within the story, adds further strata to Bergman Island, especially as the two narratives overlap, as Amy sure seems to be an extension of Chris, or maybe more accurately, a piece of her buried deep within. As Chris narrates the story to Tony, we can interpret the visual presentation we see — Wasikowska and Lie playing characters — as a reflection of her mind’s eye. Tony can’t see it, but we can. The level of intimacy we have with Chris suggests her deeper discontent with Tony, and casts earlier scenes — one where he barely responds to what’s clearly her sexual proposition, for example — in darker tones. Their partnership seems OK, with its spats and moments of caring and communicative issues, but here they are on hallowed Bergman ground, where the place’s legendary founder and creative cultivator would surely insist they burn it all down.
Hansen-Love shows extraordinary control of this complex material. She works in lockstep with a Krieps’ performance, achieving narrative clarity even as the primary story and the story within the story overlap visually and thematically during a subtly intense third act. And yet, the conclusion she reaches is tantalizingly suggestive; the collision of Bergman’s work within our reality with Chris’ fictional reality and Amy’s fiction-within-the-fictional reality is smeared and messy. Fear not, Bergman Island isn’t yet another grating movie about itself, an Ode to the Art of Filmmaking like the insular and indulgent Mank or The Artist (and far too many of their ilk) — and let’s face it, any overt references to Bergman’s films will only be caught by the film-buff niche. No, it’s too smart to be too meta. It examines the pains of the creative process, especially when it incorporates personal experiences like Chris’, and the fallout such art may have on both relationships and the self. Remember, in the movie of life, true resolution is a myth.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Bergman Island is a compelling and thoughtful drama fueled by strong writing and Krieps’ engaging performance.