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‘Bergman Island’ Review: Working Things Out at a Shrine


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Mia Hansen-Løve’s brilliant new film lands a filmmaking couple on sacred cinematic ground

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Vicky Krieps as Chris and Tim Roth as Tony

Photo: IFC Films
 

In the glory days of art-house cinema, movie lovers—I mean cinephiles—would chew over the latest Ingmar Bergman drama for every last shred of significance. Was it as bleak as it seemed? What was the meaning of it all? You don’t have to know the Bergman canon to enjoy “Bergman Island,” playing in theaters, though the experience will be heightened if you do. This ingenious and beautiful film by Mia Hansen-Løve isn’t for chewing so much as savoring. The more you think back on its mysteries, the more pleasure it bestows.

The premise is deceptively simple. A couple from America, Tony (Tim Roth) and Chris (Vicky Krieps), arrive for a summer residence program on Fårö, the island off Sweden’s southeastern coast where Bergman lived and shot many of his finest films. He’s her senior by a couple of decades, an established filmmaker who’s preparing a new production. She’s writing a film of her own. They’ve both come to take inspiration from what amounts to a shrine. They rove the island, which inspired Bergman; roam his house, restored by a foundation to its original state; sleep in the bedroom where the great man shot “Scenes From a Marriage”—the film, according to a droll housekeeper, “that made millions of people divorce.” Tony’s project seems to be going well; Chris’s screenplay does not. She writes slowly with a fountain pen; the fountain may be going dry. Then time stands still, literally. To relieve her anxiety she removes the battery from a wall clock in her work space.

There’s that, then, scenes from a relationship out of whack. Chris needs help that Tony can’t give her, though they do have movie love in common; she feels patronized when he tosses off some perfunctory suggestions. Of the many matters this movie raises deftly, some touch on how people do or don’t get along—in love, in the course of their daily lives, in the troubled throes of making art. Why, Chris wonders, feeling oppressed rather than uplifted by the surroundings, didn’t Bergman “ever once want to explore happiness?”

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Mia Wasikowska as Amy

Photo: IFC Films

Happily for us, Ms. Hansen-Løve—if you don’t know her work, start with her stunning 2009 feature, “Father of My Children”—has witty fun with those surroundings. Fårö is a sacred space where a peerless artist made some of the most cherished films in the history of cinema. But it’s also a genteel theme park that commodifies the trappings of Bergman’s life, and, in the process, raises questions about connections between his life and his art. Chris is tempted to go on a Bergman Safari in a tour bus with Bergman films playing on a TV monitor. She buys a pair of sunglasses at the museum store, knockoffs of the ones Bibi Andersson wore in “Persona.”

But she also starts to write. Soon we’re watching a movie within the movie in which Chris’s surrogate, Amy (Mia Wasikowska), has made a movie about her own life—worlds within worlds within worlds—and works out her neediness, as well as her yearning to break free, in a fraught encounter with an old boyfriend (who, Amy thinks, patronizes her).

Here’s where “Bergman Island” ups its already lofty game, both as an intricate puzzle of the psyche to be decoded and as a showcase for superb performances—by Ms. Krieps, who was so brilliant in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Phantom Thread,” and by the always dynamic Mr. Roth, but also by Ms. Wasikowska and by Anders Danielsen Lie as Joseph, Amy’s boyfriend.

In keeping with Chris’s artistic development—promising but incomplete, however patronizing that may sound—the movie she writes is earnest and somewhat awkward, in contrast to the marvelous film that surrounds it. But what, exactly, is that surrounding narrative? When I reviewed “Father of My Children” I wrote that one of the events in its narrative flow left me so stunned that I wished the flow would stop until I could pull myself together. Well, Ms. Hansen-Løve is at it again. I can’t or won’t be more specific about what’s so stunning this time, but I can tell you that Chris breaks freer than she could have imagined and we could have thought.

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The last post in this topic was made more than 14 days ago. Only post in this topic if you have something valuable to add. Irrelevant posts are not allowed and you will be warned/banned for spamming old topics.

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