Director – Mia Hansen-Løve – 2021 – France, Belgium, Germany – Cert. 15 – 112m
First half *****
Second half **
A working, filmmaking couple spend time on the island where celebrated director Ingmar Berman lived, now a niche tourist attraction based around his life and movies – out exclusively on MUBI from Friday, July 22nd
Two writer-directors who are also a couple Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth) fly in to spend time and write at the Bergman Estate on Fårö Island in the Baltic Sea, just off the coast of Sweden. This is the site that legendary Swedish film and theatre director Ingmar Bergman left as a legacy to the world, where people could apply for residencies to help in their creative or academic work, watch his films on 35mm and browse his personal audio, video and book library. Chris and Tony thus find themselves alone in Bergman’s private viewing theatre watching Cries And Whispers (Ingmar Bergman, 1972).
Both are involved with screenplays: when he’s over at the Bergman Centre, she sneaks a look in his large notebook entitled ‘F’ which contains extensive notes and erotic drawings veering towards the sadomasochistic. On a later occasion, she stands him up by not joining the Bergman Safari coach tour around the island, complete with a tour guide describing the site where Through A Glass Darkly (Ingmar Bergman, 1961) plays on a screen. The house where it was shot was built for the film then destroyed immediately after, although the orchard in which it was situated still remains. On a later occasion still, Chris goes looking for it but, because it’s no longer there, can’t find it.
When she stands Tony up, however, she runs into film student Hampus (Hampus Nordenson) who is due to leave shortly to visit his ageing grandpa. He shows her round the island, and lots of Bergman sites she wouldn’t see on the official tour.
Our glimpses of Tony’s projects are both brief and opaque – there’s a delicious verbal description of his upcoming zombie movie which he delivers with considerable relish to his young daughter when bringing her to the island on a ferry in the closing moments.
What we see of Chris’s script is far more comprehensive, constituting a lengthy flashback involving Amy (Mia Wasikowska) and Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie from The Worst Person In The World, Joachim Trier, 2021) in a curious portrayal of a relationship with a lot of nudity and sex scenes which cut away rather than dwell on the carnal physicality as if the film both wants to be coy and candid at the same time.
Nudity notwithstanding, this whole section is strangely uninvolving, which is curious because prior to this, the piece works as an effective drama. As soon as it enters this section, the proceedings suddenly lose the hold they previously had on the audience, and never really recover. Since it was nominated for the Palme d’Or at Cannes, clearly not everyone feels this same way.
Anyone familiar with Bergman’s work (i.e. movies, as the references to his theatrical work is comparatively scant) will be able to make sense of it all, though it’s possible that the uninitiated may find all the references somewhat baffling. The film trades on Bergman’s life and work, and that’s clearly one of its attractions. Such a shame that the script fails to maintain the dramatic promise that holds the first half together so well in its second half, especially when the four leads are of such high calibre. Oh, well. Next!
Bergman Island is out in UK and Ireland exclusively on MUBI from Friday, July 22nd.
Exclusively on MUBI: Friday, July 22nd
UK and Irish cinemas: Friday, June 3rd