In her seventh film Bergman Island, screening at New York Film Festival, Mia Hansen-Løve pays homage to the great Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. Intriguingly, she takes the audience on a journey through the creative process of two filmmakers not unlike Bergman. The film is a savvy meld of the artist’s personal life with her characters and narrative, all the while informing her evolution as an artist, wife and mother.
Bergman Island is evocative and mysterious, centering around married filmmakers Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth). Chris and Tony visit a writing retreat to work on their latest projects. There, they sequester themselves from interruptions and distractions. Tony, who is an admirer of Ingmar Bergman, selects the remote Swedish island of Fårö where Bergman lived and made many of his masterpieces.
Hansen-Løve gives more than a nod to Bergman as she follows Chris who explores the Bergman Foundation’s studio, library and other areas. Bergman’s ghost haunts the island and helps to imbue it with an austere atmosphere. Indeed, the isolation and quiet fascinate. Chris tours the beaches, a pleasant feature of the island, with a friend she meets casually.
Undercurrents and ironies swirl throughout Bergman Island. For example, Tony and Chris use the same bed Bergman and his wives slept in and employed in his films. As the caretaker guides Tony and Chris through Bergman’s elegant and unadorned house where they stay, she mentions that the bed influenced countless divorces and partner break-ups over the years. The reference is a humorous one. Superstitiously, Chris reveals concern that perhaps she and Tony should sleep in the other bedroom, so that they don’t become a Bergman statistic.
The filmmaker intertwines Chris and Tony’s discussion of Bergman’s personal life with their inner selves. Bergman had five wives, and children with six different women. None of the children knew each other until there was a reunion at Bergman’s 60th birthday. Unconcerned about family or raising children, Bergman devoted his efforts to working as a director, screenwriter, producer and playwright. Paternalistic, he allowed his wives to raise the children and seldom helped.
Chris finds this disturbing. Subsequently, she compares her relationship with Tony to Bergman’s relationships with his wives. She relates Bergman’s personal life to the characters and narratives of his films. Tony makes horror films that are faithful to the genre. Though not similar to Bergman’s films, in one respect they are. Bergman’s films about ordinary life reveal dark issues about human beings and the conflicted nature of the soul. Their subject matter and characters approach the shock of Tony’s horror films.
The couple concludes that Bergman’s life and films reflect cruelty. In his works, his personal life and art meld. Obviously, Bergman’s interior personal elements spilled into his artistry and fueled his films.
These observations haunt Tony and Chris as they meditate about and work on their film projects, thinking about the extent to which their lives and their relationship with each other impact their creative process.
At this point in Bergman Island, the director sends Tony and Chris in different directions. Tony receives accolades at a film screening which Chris doesn’t attend. Instead, she becomes involved with the lives of her fictional characters (portrayed by Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie). Intrigued and inspired by the island’s remoteness, she weaves a narration that blurs fantasy and reality. When Chris shares the narrative with Tony, Hansen-Løve actualizes the story in a second film nested in the frame of the Tony and Chris story. Thus, we understand how the isolation, history and spirit of Bergman on this unusual island have an impact on her film creation.
Bergman Island offers an insider’s view into Bergman’s life and the place where he was able to create with prodigious abandon. Yet, Hansen-Løve does not pander to the iconic filmmaker. Rather, she uses him and the island as her muse to create a work that is fresh, intriguing, mysterious and revelatory in its own right. Especially ironic and humorous is the ending where the characters from the nesting story merge with the real-life film crew and creative team. As themselves Mia and Anders say goodbye to move on to other projects in their busy lives.
Finally, the filmmaker reminds us of the artist’s talent at manifesting characters that are both autobiographical and fictional. We understand that this is a portrait of a filmmaker who finds her voice and emotional perspective inspired by an island and a great persona. In homage to Bergman, Hansen-Løve uncovers how unique and wondrous the creative process is.
Bergman Island is screening at the 59th New York Film Festival. For tickets and times check out the website.