TropicSprockets / Bergman Island

By Ian Brockway

“Bergman Island,” directed by Mia Hansen-Løve is a tribute to the legendary psychological filmmaker. Meditative, gentle and well-acted, it is in some ways a romantic drama with the master’s visual cues, but it does possess a slight yet definitive, eerie quality. 

Tony (Tim Roth) and Chris (Vicky Krieps) are a filmmaker couple who have a daughter together, although the status of their relationship is ambiguous. Judging by Tony’s self-absorption, things are not so warm. Tony and Chris travel to the iconic Swedish isle of Faro to hopefully be inspired by Bergman.

Chris is captivated while Tony is taciturn and far away. He is looking forward to a Bergman tour, but Chris stands him up at the last minute, opting instead to go for a drive with the melancholy and blonde student (Hampus Nordenson). Tony back at home appears nauseous.

They take a walk by the very beach that is featured in the famous film “Persona.” Tony loosens up and puts aside his woes and Chris tells him of a film she’s working on, where a young woman (Mia Wasikowska) can’t forget her cold egotistical lover (Anders Danielsen Lie). 

What is most striking is that Chris (and for that matter all of the characters) is hit with an obsessive fever. The couple stays in the “Scenes from a Marriage” house. The austere natural wood decor holds Chris in an Ingmar spun spider web overrun with diagonals and sharp, peaked angles. Nearly every meadow is dotted with quaint wood frame cottages. Person after person is filled with the auteur’s anecdotes and dialogue, indeed it is all they talk about. Chris abruptly gets stuck in a thunderstorm alone and the townspeople refuse to assist her, shooting her looks of confusion and weariness. At such moments, the film could be a Bergman version of Ari Aster’s “Midsommar.” 

Eerie touches aside, the film for the most part has a charming slant, as Chris and Tony amble through Faro and trade quizzical looks at each other. The most curious aspects of the film (although there are others) is the strange nonchalance of the film student that Chris is smitten with (or is she?) and the supposed charm of Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie) in the film within a film segment, who is clearly a handsome, unfeeling cad. 

The film is equally opaque in referencing the couple’s toddler daughter June. Tony indicates that June is miles away. Chris misses her and breaks down in tears. In a later scene, Tony (alone with his daughter) tells June, “If you look real hard, you will see mommy… like a ghost.” Who is the ghost here? The child or Chris? The film leaves these ideas open, but given the mania of Chris’ kissing and her iron grip, disturbing possibilities remain. 

Perhaps Chris and Tony are actual ghosts in exile. Pale and anemic-looking, Tony can’t seem to type. Chris sees a sketchbook (perhaps illustrated by one of the students) detailing figures involved in S&M and suicide. A message reads: “Am I you? Are you me?” Chris passes by the journal with a blank stare.

Whatever the answers, “Bergman Island” effectively captures the oddness of several Bergman films while managing to be a singular and unapologetic mystery unto itself. Depending on how one feels at the time, the film will point to different outcomes. Better still, it will compel you to see other films by Bergman himself or those of Hansen-Løve.

Write Ian at ianfree11@yahoo.com

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