Rating : ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️
Availability: In theatres
Plot: French film director and screenwriter, Mia Hansen-Løve brings this serene and absorbing drama to the screen. It tells the story of married filmmakers Chris and Tony, who travel to Fårö, a small Swedish island north of of Gotland. Without a doubt, Fårö’s most famous resident was Ingmar Bergman, master filmmaker, who made a number of films on the island. With the establishment of The Bergman Centre four years after his death, Fårö has become both a place of pilgrimage for Bergman devotees, and a scriptwriters retreat. The protagonists are taking part in the residency programme offered by the centre. Tony, the older and more successful of the two, is clearly much admired as a filmmaker. He confidently addresses groups and mingles with film aficionados. Chris, in the early stages of her career, seems uncomfortable from the start. For her, the serene perfection of the place is oppressive. In their separate work spaces, he writes with ease, while she struggles to put pen to paper. All this is explored gently and understatedly, as they nicely traverse the tension and irritation, tenderness and passion within their relationship that gives the union authenticity. Halfway through the film, Chris begins to share her work with Tony, at which point we experience her story within their story. The lines between the two fictional stories soon become blurred as Hansen-Løve explores the world of the writer’s imagination.
Filming and Setting: As Chris and Tony arrive in Gotland we follow them on their journey to Fårö. First they pick up their rental car and drive north to the ferry that will take them to the lovely island where the rest of the film is set. They settle into Bergman’s cottages – beautiful in their simplicity – and throughout the film we get to see the the places where Bergman lived and worked. We also see the Bergman Centre, including its small movie theatre. Hansen-Løve has great fun with the ‘Bergman Safari’ tourist industry that has developed since Bergman’s death. It’s a bit like a Hollywood tour with added literary pomposity that I imagine would have Bergman turning in his grave.
Cast: Vicky Krieps is excellent in the lead role playing the petulant Chris. As she tries to reconcile what she is experiencing with her own perceptions of art, she is beautifully serene one moment and tense and argumentative the next. Tim Roth is terrific as her husband Tony. As his character enjoys all the glory bestowed upon him by adoring fans, he plays the role assuredly with just a hint of arrogance.
Personal Comments: In the week following Bergman’s death in 2007, we travelled across Gotland and watched a Bergman film that was shown in candle-lit ruins – a magical tribute to the filmmaker. It didn’t matter that it was in Swedish with no subtitles. It was all about the atmosphere. Having made the trip to Gotland and Fårö we were pretty keen to see what Hansen-Løve would make of Bergman Island. We were certainly not disappointed. It is a beautiful film, that cleverly exposes the working process of imagining and the unfolding of creative narrative. We see Chris experiencing her life and relationships, and then we see elements being played out in her writing. The boundaries between her life and her work become increasingly blurred, as characters move from one story to another. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but bathed in late summer sunshine, it’s a playful, sometimes mischievous, exploration of story writing that lingers long after the credits.