By Richard Ades
Bergman Island should appeal to devotees of the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman—at least on the surface.
Written and directed by Mia Hansen-Love, the flick sends filmmaking couple Chris and Tony (Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth) to Faro, the island that often served as the auteur’s home and movie set. There they go to work on their separate writing projects while sleeping in a bed that reportedly was used in Scenes From a Marriage, Bergman’s painful account of a marriage’s disintegration.
The obvious implication is that we’re about to see a similar disintegration take place between Chris and Tony, whose relationship may not be that solid to begin with. Tony, who appears to be decades older, is so engrossed in his work that he sometimes seems distant and even ignores Chris’s romantic overtures. His career also is more established than hers, possibly creating the kind of power imbalance that played a destructive role in Scenes. This becomes obvious when a local screening of one of Tony’s films draws gushing fans while Chris disappears into the background.
It’s no surprise, then, that when a young man offers to give Chris a private tour of the island, she takes it, in the process skipping a group excursion she was supposed to take with Tony. Is this the beginning of the unraveling of their relationship?
But then director Hansen-Love takes things in a new and unexpected direction. After Chris begins telling Tony about a screenplay she’s struggling to finish, her script comes to life as we’re introduced to Amy (Mia Wasikowska), its lonely protagonist. We watch as Amy arrives at a Swedish island to attend a friend’s wedding and runs into Joe (Anders Danielsen Lie), an old love for whom she still carries a torch.
Will Amy and Joe reconnect despite the fact that each is now involved with someone else? The question is explored at length as the movie-within-a-movie goes on and on, to the extent that it nearly eclipses the original story of Chris and Tony. On the one hand, that’s OK, because Amy and Joe’s story is a pleasant diversion. On the other hand, it’s odd that the film’s core relationship is left so undeveloped.
After hearing about the complications Hansen-Love faced in making the movie, it’s hard not to wonder whether they contributed to this lapse. Owen Wilson was supposed to play Tony but bowed out weeks before filming started, forcing the director to begin shooting without a Tony in 2018. It wasn’t until 2019, after Roth had been cast in the part, that she was able to return to the island and fill in the gaps.
A few late twists do offer some insight into Chris’s relationship with Tony while raising questions about her connections with the supposedly fictitious Amy and Joe. These add intriguing ambiguities to the film, though they don’t quite make up for its failure to delve into interpersonal issues as richly as Bergman did in Scenes From a Marriage and other classics.
That’s a high standard, admittedly, but when you make a film called Bergman Island, it’s hard to avoid the comparison.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Bergman Island (rated R) opens in select theaters Oct. 15 and will be available from VOD outlets beginning Oct. 22.