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‹ Flicks with The Film Snob

Bergman Island

May 10, 2022
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Bergman Island
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A screenwriter couple’s stay on Ingmar Bergman’s home island of Fårö inspires an honest look at how women are represented in movies, in the latest thoughtful film from Mia Hansen-Løve.

French director Mia Hansen-Løve is a real cinephile. She loves to think and talk about film history and the works of famous filmmakers. Although she’s partly of Danish heritage, she grew up in France. Even so, she’s been influenced, like so many others, by the films of the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. Like him, she often examines relationships between the sexes, and conflicts in personal life. Unlike Bergman, her films generally avoid heightened dramatic events. Instead she focuses steadily on everyday life, and the ordinary changes occurring in people’s emotions and viewpoints over time. She also likes to portray the inner lives of women, although not exclusively.

This comparison and contrast with Bergman has resulted in her latest film, entitled Bergman Island. It concerns two screenwriters, who also happen to be a couple, Chris and Tony, played by Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth. They’ve decided to visit Fårö, the island off the coast of Sweden where Bergman had lived, renting a little house and hoping that being there for a few weeks will inspire them to finish their separate screenplays. Hansen-Løve and her two lead actors deftly portray the mundane details of getting used to a new vacation place, with Roth in particular showing how relaxed and believably casual a performer he can be. They decide to watch a Bergman film, settling on Cries and Whispers, and the experience, as you might expect if you’re familiar with that movie, is intense. Krieps’s character, Chris, is especially conflicted. She comprehends the great artistry, but doesn’t really like the way Bergman portrays women. As the film goes on, we start to understand that Hansen-Løve intends to present us with an alternative version of how women might more realistically behave than in a Bergman film. It’s a clever strategy in which she honors the famous director while criticizing him through her own different stylistic choices. But soon it stops being a commentary on Bergman and goes in its own direction.

The film’s centerpiece occurs when she asks Tony to listen to her ideas about where to go with her screenplay. As she narrates, we are taken to a film within the film, starring Mia Wasikowska as a filmmaker who runs into an old lover on Fårö that she broke up with long ago and had children with someone else, but then finds the sparks flying between them again. Where does life end and art begin? Of course there are echoes of Chris’s relationship with Tony, hints of trouble in their intimacy, but the correspondence is not exact.

There’s quite a bit of humor around the way Bergman has been commodified on the island. Roth’s character even goes on what they call a “Bergman safari,” a bus tour to various sites of Bergman films. This is a real thing. Hansen-Løve’s sly regard for the commercialized aspect of film is endearing. Her movie, Bergman Island, is more than just a treat for cinephiles, though; it’s a provocative look at the way women could be, should be portrayed in film, and preferably by women directors. It’s both a challenge and a delight.


TAGS
Film,   Ingmar Bergman,   Relationships,   screenplay,   Women,  

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