Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth) are good travelers. They have packed nice but comfortable clothes. They take full advantage of the facilities where they live – a farmhouse on the Swedish island of Faro, where revered author Ingmar Bergman spent much of his time – with a natural comfort, cycling and cooking and setting up writing stations around the property. And they seriously explore and take in the sights and sounds and people of this windy idyll with a quiet, uninteresting curiosity.
They also seem to understand, as many a good traveler does, that part of the journey makes an assessment of what you have left at home and what you have had with you. IN Mia Hansen-Løveis a new movie Bergman Island (at theaters October 15) filmmaker Chris has gone to Faro with her husband as a writer and director for a kind of creative getaway. They both plan to work on their next projects, while Tony sings for their supper by making panels and master classes for admiring fans at the nearby Bergman Center, a real cultural destination dedicated to the late Swedish champion. As Chris drives around the island, she assesses the frustrations of her work, carefully picks up some cracks in her relationship and imagines a completely different story – similar to her own, but certainly alluding.
Bergman Island is about life and art that inform and interrogate each other, and how a change of place can enlighten and confuse the conscious thought. Chris – who misses his daughter, both enjoys and hates his loneliness – is dotted with a new idea when the film takes place. She teases it out of herself before throwing it back to the source. The story is hers because she manages it – but in that way she lives in some way too. Hansen-Løve may be trying to shed light on something about his own writing process here and illustrates the sensitive but no less demanding practice of wrestling diffuse ideas and feelings into something readable. “Is it a movie?” Chris asks Tony when she posts what she thinks. She does not get a satisfactory answer from him, so Hansen-Løve gives it to her instead.
Thus, there is a movie in a movie where Chris’ amazing idea (excuse) becomes apparent. Mia Wasikowska plays Amy, a New Yorker who travels to Faro for a dear friend’s wedding. During the journey, she is enchanted by an old flame, Joe (Anders Danielsen Lie, arthouse hunk of the season). Theirs was a teenage love that turned into a twenty-year-old disaster turned into an atomized longing for adulthood, a cycle of passion and anxiety that Amy consciously slips back to when she is on this enchanted island, still whispering with all Bergman’s pain.
A little in Amy’s story directly reflects Chris, beyond the shared attitude and mention of a child at home. But perhaps Amy’s modest adventures of the heart echo Chris in less literal ways? The gap between fact and fiction is there Bergman Island finds its mumbling strength. Its perhaps unanswerable questions about itself and creation give Hansen-Løve’s fine-tuned film a creeping weight. Maybe one of art’s guesses.
To this end, the film gets Chris to ask questions about Bergman – how his work, which she loves, did or did not reflect the actual, difficult person. We in the audience can also zoom out and look at Hansen-Løve himself, and wonder how much of Bergman Island is a commentary on her own past relationship with a famous director, her own travels to understand her craft and produce the soft wonders she has over the years.
Rather miraculous, Bergman Island is not intimidated by pretentious navel gazing. It is a film about filmmaking (or a writing about writing) that humbly stacks its metatextual layers and speaks more to the ineffective whims and fancies of creation than to any distant, quantifiable brilliance that needs to be explained to the masses. It is a generous film in that way, which invites the audience to the warming campfire at Hansen-Løve, without dragging us through a burning crucible of unimpeded passion.
Hansen-Løve attracts suitable natural, nuanced performances from his actors. Krieps, who last saw freaking on a beach that makes you old, turns away from his mouse character Phantom wire at a small angle. Like Phantom wireAlma, Chris can give some inspiration to his more intense partner. But Chris has his own fascinations and ambitions, his own determination and self-doubt to take care of. It is a pleasure to see Krieps observe things, follow her around this island when she and Hansen-Løve think about things, absorb and work through. Wasikowska meanwhile communicates lots of thirty feelings – fatigue, loss, hope, departure – in a whirling scene involving an ABBA song and slipping away a bittersweet dream. There we see glimpses of Hansen-Løves Bye first love, perhaps when Amy heads towards Hansen-Løve’s late middle-aged huff Things to come.
It took me a second view to really groove on the lo-fi hike off Bergman Island. The first time I saw the film was in Cannes, where I was perhaps too distracted by my own travel experience — too overwhelmed and melancholy (on the specific mode of travel), too consumed by my own creative worries, to see what Hansen-Løve was shining back on. me. Ironically, it was only when I was home, months later and felt more rooted, that I could really appreciate what the film does with such a calm and graceful purpose. It’s really something to be transported, right? Steered towards a reconsideration of our own context of an aircraft, a boat, a car or all of the above. Or by a notebook, dutifully scribbled in. Or through a film like this, which says, with a watery and empathetic laugh: wherever you go, there you are.
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