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Film Review: ‘Bergman Island’ Expertly Blurs the Line Between Reality and Fiction

Watching Ingmar Bergman films like Through a Glass Darkly, Persona, and Hour of the Wolf gives viewers the impression that Fårö—the Swedish island the filmmaker fell in love with and spent his final years on—is a cold, oppressive place. His films are full of grim foreboding, characters plagued by internal and external adversaries, with the island allowing them no respite. Seeing the island for what it actually is brings with it the realization that perhaps this portrayal of the location is simply a projection of Bergman’s inner self being placed on the world around him. Fårö in Bergman’s films is a world away from the Fårö of Bergman Island.

In the latest film from Goodbye, First Love and Things to Come director Mia Hansen-Løve, Fårö is a gorgeous haven loaded with inspiration for filmmakers like Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth), a couple who arrive for Tony’s work to be feted while Chris seeks to make headway on her latest story. As the pair mingle with the Bergman aficionados who inhabit the island and run its famous Bergman Center, Hansen-Løve loads her film with a bevy of references and Easter eggs that any fan of the legendary filmmaker will surely eat up with glee. 

Once you get past the initial joy of geeking out on Bergman, you can fully appreciate the ways in which Hansen-Løve has channeled the artistic inspiration she gets from the filmmaker into her own work here. A filmmaker who always brings autobiographical elements into her art, Bergman Island presents a reflection on so many ideas its director has grappled with herself. From self-doubt over the stories that she’s telling to the conflicting needs for connection and isolation when you’re in an artistic couple, there’s no hiding from the truths that Hansen-Løve is unspooling as the film reaches each new section of its narrative development. 

The further we go along on this journey, seen through Chris’ perspective in an achingly human performance from Vicky Krieps, the more Hansen-Løve blurs the lines between reality and fiction. Eventually, we are taken into the story that Chris is developing itself, with her characters portrayed by Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie. It’s a fascinating way to have the audience observe how Chris’ work is influenced by her personal life, the same way that Chris herself is a creation influenced by Hansen-Løve’s life experiences. That’s only the tip of the meta iceberg that Bergman Island cracks open, with the ultimate destinations full of thrills for any filmgoer. 

Bergman Island took a rocky path to get to the screen. Initially cast with Greta Gerwig and John Turturro, the film spent years in development before shooting began, bringing Owen Wilson in at one point for the Tony role before he also had to drop out. At that point, Krieps was on board and they had no actor cast opposite her, but Hansen-Løve and her leading lady marched onward, shooting half of the film with Krieps alone before coming back to Fårö a year later with Roth to finish shooting. Watching the film, you’d have no idea this were the case. Hansen-Løve doesn’t just make the film’s patching together absolutely seamless—she creates an experience that feels so effortless as a viewer that you don’t feel like you’re working hard to process the multitude of layers it is peeling open before your eyes. This is personal, universal, and altogether transcendent filmmaking. 

SCORE: ★★★★

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Written by Mitchell Beaupre

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