Michael Hayward's Blog

VIFF 2021: "Bergman Island"

Michael Hayward

It’s doubtful that die-hard fans of Ingmar Bergman’s work will approve of Mia Hansen-Løve’s film Bergman Island. For one thing (and this might require a mild spoiler alert), the film is not particularly dark and brooding, nor are there many scenes of characters dealing with deep psychic or emotional pain—except indirectly, in one brief scene, when the film’s two main characters, Tony (Tim Roth) and Chris (Vicky Krieps)—seated comfortably in what was once Bergman’s personal screening room, at what is now known as The Ingmar Bergman Foundation—watch a private screening of Bergman’s own Cries and Whispers.

Bergman Island is as meta as a movie about movie-making can be. To begin with, both Tony and Chris are film-makers themselves, as well as being fans (to varying degrees) of Bergman’s work. Then there’s the film's title, which is a nickname for Fårö, the island in the Baltic Sea where Bergman lived for many years, and where he filmed several of his movies (incidentally, there is another film titled Bergman Island, a 2006 documentary by Marie Nyreröd, about Bergman’s long relationship with Fårö).

Tony and Chris are on Farö as guests of The Ingmar Bergman Foundation, part of a residency that will allow them each to work on the scripts of their next films. Tony is the more famous of the two (at one point the Foundation hosts a screening of one of Tony’s films, followed by a Q&A from an enthusiastic audience). In contrast, Chris is struggling with her film's script, and we sense some tensions in their relationship. If this were a Bergman film, that tension would quickly descend into an inevitable and unavoidable “dark night of the soul.” In Hansen-Løve’s hands we are taken down a different path. During a walk on the island, Chris shares the outline of her script with Tony, and her story-telling becomes a film-within-a-film starring Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie. It’s a clever device, which works quite well.

Bergman Island takes full advantage of the many available opportunities to poke fun at the “sanctification” of Bergman and his films, something that VIFF’s overview describes as “the island’s theme-park trivialization of Bergman’s work.” For film buffs of all levels, Bergman Island is a lot of fun, though it is unlikely to attract the same degree of reverence and scholarly debate as Bergman’s Persona, or The Seventh Seal.

There are two in-theatre screenings of Bergman Island as part of VIFF 2021, on Tuesday, October 5 and Thursday, October 7 at the Vancouver Playhouse. See here for more information on the film. You can view the trailer for Bergman Island here.



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