An odd thing occurred to me while watching The Criterion Collection’s new release, Bergman Island. It was a feeling that this documentary was really a DVD extra rather than a feature. Then, lo and behold, whilst researching the disk online I found out that I was correct. This film was indeed an extra feature on the company’s latest re-release of another Bergman film, The Seventh Seal. And that includes its own extra feature — a half hour video essay on Bergman’s filmic canon by film historian Peter Cowie.
Having said that, Bergman Island is not a bad documentary, but it breaks no new ground; neither cinematically, in the way, say, a documentary like The Kid Stays In the Picture does, nor in revealing anything about Bergman unseen before — not his life, his views, nor his home. This is because Bergman did many interviews in his career, and many with Marie Nyrerod, this film’s director.
Additionally, this film has a further problem, and that is a slapdash feel to it. The interview tends to range all over the place, and this is due to the fact that the 83 minute film is really a condensation of three one hour-long films that Nyrerod did with Bergman on his life and twin careers in theater and film. This cut, however, almost totally scraps the theater hour and focuses mostly on the personal hour, with about a third of it devoted to the films.
What is left of the film goes over many of the subjects well trod in other interviews: Bergman’s obsessions with sex and death, or his claim that guilt is somehow ostentatious, etc. While there is something honest but self-serving about hearing Bergman claim, "I had a bad conscience until I discovered that having a bad conscience about something so gravely serious as leaving your children is an affectation, a way of achieving a little suffering that can’t for a moment be equal to the suffering you’ve caused. I haven’t put an ounce of effort into my families. I never have," one wishes that Nyrerod would have come back with a good follow-up to such a claim. Instead, she lets Bergman off the hook.