French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve’s work is known to resonate with a strong auteurial voice. Her cinema deals with intimate characters who delve deep into their minds – which often is a reflection of the director’s own mindscape. Hansen-Løve’s latest film Bergman Island may appear to be a spellbinding ode to Ingmar Berman but it, classically, isn’t. While Bergman’s persona looms large in the surroundings of the film, Hansen-Løve’s lyrical film-in-film drama is quintessentially hers.
Bergman Island is about Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth), a filmmaker couple, who arrive in Fårö Island of Baltic Sea – famous for having housed Ingman Bergman where he wrote, made films et al. The duo is intrigued by the mood of the place but Chris doubts if the place is too beautiful to construct something as composite as a movie script. It only adds a layer of complexity to the couple’s status quo as the usher explains how the house they live in is the one where Scenes of Marriage was filmed – which, incidentally, paved the way for plenty of divorces. In the initial chapters that discuss Bergman’s cinema, Hansen-Løve wonders why the filmmaker seldom explored happiness.
Aside from that, the protagonist Chris is tantalized by the languid nature of the island. While her more popular filmmaker husband is relishing his share of adulation at local screening halls, the woman with a penchant to experiment (much like Hansen-Løve) enjoys the company of a young student. The film evaluates the co-existence of two creative people in a relationship – an older, prolific, tight-lipped husband and a conversant, intelligent, communicative wife. Bergman Island takes an unexpected and dramatic turn when Chris begins to narrate her film idea to Tony. Set in Fårö, it is about Amy (Mia Wasikowska) and her reunion with her first love Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie). Drenched in a sea of myriad emotions, their story emanates passion – an element that lacks in Chris’s marital relationship. Before we realize it, Bergman Island intersects fiction and reality. The reality in question is also a glaringly obvious hint towards Hansen-Løve’s former romantic partner and collaborator Olivier Assayas, a French cinema veteran.
One must hand it to the filmmaker for braving it out to etch a chapter of her own life onto a suitably creative fictional palette. In her delightfully convoluted plot, Hansen-Løve integrates two women (Chris, Amy) to represent a common conscience. Their chemistry – even though they share the screen only fleetingly – is magnetic. Even as Chris narrates what must be her story through Amy, it is impossible to notice the image of one in another’s eyes. Amy echoes what must be a version of Chris’s bottled emotions and her inability to seek catharsis. At the same time, Amy (who is a filmmaker too, again) is finding ways to attain it through her own artistic expression, and then there is a white dress that becomes a marvelous metaphor. This way Bergman Island magically offers what must be three perspectives on what might possibly be a process of emotional release.
Mia Hansen-Løve’s screenplay is meticulous in the way she creates the universe, makes multiple persons from different realms interact, to finally converge into a thoroughly fulfilling final sequence. The men are seldom trivialized or demonized. Bergman Island is a story of its women. Hansen-Løve merely highlights the truth that they, constantly, are incapable of processing a woman’s complex mind and needs – however enterprising or attractive they are. In a liberating moment, Amy states to Joseph in a scene, “I love two people,” whereas the latter’s reservations woven to his conventional idea of fidelity comes out as fidgety in comparison.
Much like the filmmaker’s previous outings (which includes the underrated India-bound Maya), the leading women in Bergman Island are philosophical. They didn’t perplex me to the extent that Things To Come did with its overt verbosity. It, in fact, radiates a lyrical tenor while also quietly (and sufficiently) celebrating Bergman’s oeuvre by making the ambiance of his art serenely surround Hansen-Løve’s personal story. Turning Bergman Island into a photographic marvel is Denis Lenoir. Even better is Marion Monnier’s editing whose extraordinarily chosen frames make sure that the navigation between the films – the one we are watching, and the other that the protagonist is narrating within – is seamless. The film also allows you to be mesmerized with its supple yet immensely engaging original score.
Performances are thoroughly studied, especially by Krieps and Wasikowska who represent conflicting facets of the filmmaker herself. Anders Danielsen Lie is enigmatic as Joseph – a quality that his character demanded. Tim Roth paints a realistic picture of what a seasoned filmmaker married to a far-younger creative person would actually look and feel like.
Bergman Island is a film that shines in its meta-ness in so many ways. While the Bergman connection is creative (and also equally foreseeable), Hansen-Løve making the film a cleverly composed auto-fiction fare is what turns it into a capricious fantasy. Even in the chapters of heightened drama filmed to exude a certain amount of theatrics, the filmmaker’s intent is inevitably crystal-clear. And it’s remarkable (and brave) of Hansen-Løve to design such an intricate, thought-provoking, and often esoteric tale with the essence of her own life without flinching a bit from her characteristic style of storytelling.
Bergman Island opens in theatres on October 15.