Bergman Island is a compelling indie tale with a meta twist.
Set on the shore of Faro, where Ingmar Bergman made most of his seminal films such as Scenes from a Marriage (1974) and The Passion of Anna (1969), the film pays homage to Bergman’s artistry, conflating the melodrama of his movies to the filmmaking couple Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony’s (Tim Roth) lives.
The presence of Bergman echoes through the film and breathes his artistry into a new generation as it consistently flirts with the idea of his genius. As the two filmmakers’ marriage begins to swell in the currents of the island’s isolation and an ever-present competitiveness lingers between the two artistically, they begin to look inwards into Bergman’s world in order to understand their own.
Bergman Island carries all the traits of an indie yet punctures itself through the wave of nuance in the non-linear narrative that unfolds. The dynamic relationship between Chris and Tony creates a simmering pot of tension. Filled with undisclosed wants and unspoken confessions, the isolation of the island forces the two to confront each other and themselves. However, at the point of climax is where the film challenges the indie trope. Instead of a climaxing argument, the two delve further into the creative mind of genius.
Through examining how Bergman’s life influenced his work, the film takes a meta-trip down the subconscious of filmmaking to prompt the creative exploration of Chris’s own work. Plagued by writer’s block and homesickness, she finds the island “too nice, too beautiful. A calm perfection which is oppressive”. The island, which she at first despised, becomes her source of inspiration as Bergman’s cinematic world comes to life.
Whilst the film’s premise is interesting, overall, it lacks any flavour. It is haunted by the ghost of Bergman, failing to bring anything new to either his art or the film’s narrative. Neither of the characters is particularly likeable and spend the majority of the film frolicking throughout the island searching for purpose. In a visual aesthetic that rings particularly familiar to Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name (2018), even the promising aesthetics fail to breathe life into a film that is so haunted by ghosts. The plot flounders around writer’s block, and whilst it does tamper with linearity and perspective, it’s ultimately stagnant.
Bergman Island is neither here nor there. It is enjoyable to watch but isn’t a notable film. Sitting in the shadows of Bergman himself, there was a great amount of promise for the film, and whilst it tiptoed around it, it failed to ever fully grasp it. Had this film been made with a different director as its core inspiration, it could have catapulted further into the indie genre bringing an interesting perspective. However, the film fell short with its big ideas and small execution, leaving it an island one would be satisfied never returning to.
Greta Gerwig and John Turturro originally signed on for the two main parts, but both had to bow out before shooting began. Gerwig was replaced with Vicky Krieps, and Turturro with Owen Wilson. However, Owen Wilson later declined with mere weeks to go before shooing. Mia Hansen-Løve and her producer decided to shoot half of the movie in summer 2018 without an actor in the male lead. The second half was shot one year later, in summer 2019 with Tim Roth finally cast in the male lead.