by Chris Connor
The cinematic legacy of Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman is close to unparalleled in World Cinema, Bergman’s name is of course synonymous with the likes of The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Persona, and Fanny and Alexander. The latest film from Mia Hansen-Løve, Bergman Island, uses the legacy of Bergman as a central focus, depicting a filmmaking married couple as they journey to Bergman’s secluded island Fårö where the director lived and made some of his best-known works. The couple Chris and Tony Sanders are played respectively by Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth.
The film is an intelligent examination of the power of cinema and Bergman’s legacy showing the near-cult status his fans hold him up to with Chris struggling to reconcile some of his personal failings and the number of children he had with different women. The performances are top-notch and help elevate the film, coupled with its premise. Vicky Krieps who, of course, burst onto the scene with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is reserved as Chris selling her frustrations with Tony and a clear sense of writer’s block as she struggles to initially take inspiration from the filmic landscape surrounding them. Tim Roth’s role is perhaps smaller than expected but he is a fine foil and shows Tony’s equal frustration with Chris and his clear love for the Swedish master.
The second part of the film unfolds as the film Chris is struggling to write, inspired in part by the island and featuring a couple in their 20s who have fallen in and out of love with each other but whose lives seem intertwined. This segment sees Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie as the couple in question. This segment sees the tone and pace of the film shift but the interludes back to Chris and Tony keep the film linked and the disparate strands eventually align, rather than feeling like two different films there are enough thematic links to make this feel like a cohesive whole and the film within a film structure is employed to great effect helping reflect in some ways on Chris’s own struggles with her time on the island and position within her marriage.
The island itself is stunningly shot and as the film marks is much calmer than the films depict with the house where “Scenes from A Marriage” is shot, a calming presence full of light. Added touches like the Bergman Safari and food inspired by the filmmaker really capture the fandom aspect that Tony laps up.
Bergman Island is an introspective and moving portrait of a marriage at a crossroads while reflecting on fandom and the creative process. The performances of the leads, especially Krieps and Roth, keep the film grounded and prevent it from being overly self-indulgent which a film of its subject matter could have been. One drawback might be the audience’s interest or prior knowledge of Bergman and while this is an important aspect of the film it does not detract from the strongest elements.
Bergman Island is out on the 3rd June