The Swedish island Faro, where Ingmar Bergman spent much of his life and created some of his best-known works, has carefully preserved his legacy. Every year, the Bergman Week event allows visitors to visit the director’s house, private theatre and grave and wander through the locations featured in his films.
This celebration serves as the backdrop and inspiration for Mia Hansen-Love’s latest movie. Bergman Island is an inquiry into two kinds of relationships – between a director and a fan, and a woman and a man. The 105-minute feature, which is in English, is being shown at the International Film Festival of India in Goa.
Can directors be separated from their works? How do we regard the cult of the male director, especially one with a complicated personal side that may not have been too kind on women? Should filmmakers get romantically involved? These questions swirl around Chris as she lands in Faro with her partner.
Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth) are filmmakers at different stages of their creative process. Alongside taking in the sights of Bergman Week, Chris is wracked by writer’s block and infected with a restiveness often reflected in Bergman’s relationship dramas.
A film about the entanglements between cinema and life becomes a film within a film when Chris narrates her screenplay to Tony. Over his polite inattentiveness, Chris visualises the movie she would like to make. It stars Mia Wasikowska as a filmmaker who similarly arrives in Faro and runs into an old flame (Anders Danielsen Lie). It is filled with sexual longing, unequal expectations and wisdom forged in the embers of dying love.
It is hard not to think of Hansen-Love’s own relationship with director Oliver Assayas, which ended after 15 years in 2017. Bergman Island explores the differing career paths between men and women: some men manage to be confident and productive despite personal turmoil, while some women respond to heartache with tentativeness and self-doubt. A distinctly female eye examines the gender dynamic that men take for granted but that rarely leaves women unaffected.
Like with Hansen-Love’s previous films, Bergman Island is suffused with casual wonderment, ineffable emotions and near-invisible shifts in feeling and attitude. The scenes appear to take a life of their own, as though emerging organically rather than through the director’s handiwork.
The feeling is enhanced by the unshowy cinematography by Daniel Lenoir and the deeply felt performances by Krieps and Wasikowska, who embrace the opportunity to just be, rather than act out.
The gently melancholic wind that blows through the movie takes Chris along with it. As she befriends a gawky film student and loses herself in the movie she hopes to make, Chris emerges as Bergmanesque but also Hansen-Lovesque – a woman who is always searching, questioning and facing the complexities of existence with a furrowed brow and a wan smile.
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