Bergman Island: This Can Happen Here, by David Bax
Bergman Island is, of course, not the name of the island in Bergman Island. Mia Hansen-Løve’s film is both set and filmed on the Swedish island of Fårö, a lot of which will be recognizable to cinephiles as the place where Ingmar Bergman shot a number of his films. That’s what’s brought the characters, married filmmakers Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth) there for a combination writing retreat and historical tour. We get some of those history lessons, as well; locations from Through a Glass Darkly and Scenes from a Marriage are pointed out directly and, though I don’t think it’s actually namechecked, multiple locations from The Passion of Anna will be recognizable to fans.
Bergman Island is neither travelogue nor fan service but, if it were, there could certainly be less interesting people to roam around and geek out with than Chris and Tony. They’re a funny, teasing couple but Krieps and Roth hint early on at the romantic and professional jealousies that lend their playful barbs an under-the-skin sting.
There are plenty of external factors the island seems to be throwing at Chris and Tony, too. When they arrive, they are installed in the house from Scenes from a Marriage, described by the caretaker as the movie that “caused millions to divorce.” Later, a young man tells Chris that he broke up with his girlfriend after seeing a movie Chris made.
Those given to things like superstition and astrology might conclude that the island is trying to tell them something. On the other hand, those disinclined to allowing room for magic in their lives will likely conclude that the Bergman settings are just allowing the couple to see the cracks more clearly. But Bergman Island is a movie about artists, people who exist in the push and pull between figment and reality. Hansen-Løve puts us in that mindset, revealing for us the interplay between cause and interpretation; at least one of the two filmmakers will go on to be inspired by the island to create new work, just as the island may be encouraging the destruction of their relationship.
Hansen-Løve doesn’t really attempt to ape Bergman’s style. Bergman Island is still undeniably one of her films, with its deceptively airy framing that ironically serves to emphasize how the characters’ worlds are closing in on them. But, then, Bergman’s films are often more free and open than the mannered dourness that is his reputation.
In that way, Bergman Island is very much like an Ingmar Bergman film. It’s a movie in which each character’s psyche is locked in conflict with itself and with the psyches of those around them. But it’s also a movie in which sunlight, wind and rain are not facts but experiences, as moving as an intimate touch from someone other than your spouse. Life is as much somatic as it is psychological. Bergman knew that. Bergman Island does too.