Bergman Island (2021) | Notes

As an admirer of Isabelle Huppert and part of the touched audience of L’avenir (2016), I was curious about Mia Hansen-Løve’s new work. I noticed that she made another film in between which I haven’t heard at all. Maya (2018) has around 500 user votes on IMDb —at least, I’m not alone. For this one, the “Bergman” word in the title raised my expectations while hinting at another story of artist/intellectual characters.

A filmmaker couple, Chris and Tony, goes to a creative retreat at Fårö Island during “Bergman Week”. Tony is in the limelight and gives an interview after the screening of his film during the event. They participate in cinephile discussions, touristic Bergman safaris, and watch Cries and Whispers (1972) in a sacred film theater while working on their new projects. After some introductory sequences on the state of affairs of the couple and the sense of the location, Bergman Island steers more into Chris’ story. She is writing a film script where a young filmmaker Amy and her first love Joseph encounters after years in a wedding of their common friends, again in Fårö.

The film does not care much about praising or subverting Bergman but it comes with a couple of questions and jokes. The guide welcomes the couple to the shooting location of “Scenes From a Marriage” with a “the movie that caused millions of people to divorce” trivia. Chris and Tony stay in different flats that have a view of each others’ windows and while trying to focus on her screenplay during a writer’s block, pointing out to Bergman’s massive legacy that is felt in the room, Chris asks “How can I sit here and not feel like a loser?”. On the flip side, during a discussion with the akins of Bergman, she questions how to perceive a man who was “as cruel in his art as in his life”. He had six marriages and nine children where he most probably left all the domestic duties to his wives.

Apart from Bergman, I thought that the focus of the film was lingering around relationships and artistic imagination. It reminded me of my recent reading of the “Beautiful World, Where Are You” in the encounter of the second-degree fiction couple Amy and Joseph, of the people who picked up and sustained some sort of life story but constantly are doubtful about it. “I love two people”, one of them was saying. The tension Amy was having about bringing only a single dress that is “more cream or off-white” to a wedding and the surfacing of this dress during a tense encounter with the lover referred to a question of commitment and relationship.

Some interesting trivia I read about after the film about Hansen-Løve was that she is an author in Cahiers du Cinéma, wrote Eden (2014) with her brother who was a DJ in the 90s in France and had retreats in Fårö that gave her the idea of shooting a film there. In the film, Chris meets with a young Swedish man Hampus and spends the day with him instead of joining the Bergman Safari with Tony. The parallel editing of that particular day was highlighting the wondrousness of a random encounter and a twosome social event compared to a predetermined tourist attraction in a group during an exploratory and artistic journey. I’ve read that Hampus was someone Hansen-Løve met in her actual visit to Fårö and she included him in the film with his real identity. I read it as one of the many efforts to make an autofiction-like film.

Trivia: Denis Lenoir, the cinematographer of Bergman Island, publishes his production journal in American Cinematographer. Here is Part I.