starring Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, Mia Wasikowska, Anders Danielsen Lie
written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
by Walter Chaw Eric Rohmer made some snoozers, too. So it is with Mia Hansen-Løve, the inheritor of Rohmer's cinema of intimate behavioural observation and obsession, and her Bergman Island, which lands midway between pointlessly clever and fatally self-obsessed. It follows married filmmakers Tony (Tim Roth) and Chris (Vicky Krieps) as they retreat to Ingmar Bergman's compound on Fårö Island in the Baltic to finish their respective screenplays. Tony's having a much easier time of it, and it's revealed they've been invited to this unusual writer's retreat at least in part so Tony can screen and conduct a Q&A for one of his films. From what we see of it, it's possibly a horror film; whatever it is, it's clear that Tony's work is very different from Chris's. Bergman shot a few of his film and TV productions on Fårö--in fact, Fårö was for him like Yoknapatawpha County was for Faulkner: an entire world unto itself that functioned as the canvas and backdrop for his working-through of major themes. There's a tour of sites that Tony goes on and Chris does not, since she meets an earnest young graduate student, Hampus (Hampus Nordenson), studying Bergman, of course, and decides to spend the day with him instead. You think this will be a source of conflict in Bergman Island, particularly as Chris comments that the couple will be sleeping in the same bedroom where Scenes from a Marriage was shot, but it's not.
Bergman Island doesn't really have conflict, it just has "sly." It's an in-joke so sophisticated as to be not only indecipherable for the casual observer--it's not even an interesting puzzle to solve. I think about the description of some forms of jazz as being for other jazz musicians, in the same way much of the French Deconstructionist movement is very smart men writing essays directly in response to one or two other very smart men. Bergman Island is for cinephiles who love Ingmar Bergman, for whom deep references to Through a Glass Darkly and Hour of the Wolf will land in a pleasant way. Then the couple argues about which 35mm print to screen at the tiny screening room, and Tony moans about how he hates The Seventh Seal before settling on...is it The Touch? That Elliott Gould one where a married Swedish woman has an affair with an American Holocaust survivor? Maybe it's just what was on my mind as I watched because I thought Bergman Island would be about infidelity. Anyway, I've seen The Touch; where's my ribbon? The whole film is Shrek for Bergman-ites. Mileage will necessarily vary.
About halfway through the film, Chris asks if she can run her script by Tony, and naturally Tony agrees. As she starts reciting her tale of a young woman travelling to the Bergman compound on Fårö Island in the Baltic for a friend's wedding, Bergman Island becomes that movie. The young woman is Amy (Mia Wasikowska), who's only brought a white dress to wear to a wedding she's attending with an old flame, Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie), with whom she engages in a delicate pas de deux. Chris's movie seems very much like the species of movie Hansen-Løve would make. Then, the kill-shot: Chris directing Lie in this film-within-a-film on the last day of shooting! Isn't it all so very delightful? It's like those Russian nesting dolls where most if not all of the point is to reveal that there's another doll inside of this doll. Credit Hansen-Løve for constantly baiting conflict without ever providing any: tension between married artists experiencing disparate levels of success; tension between a married couple tempted by handsome foreigners; tension between a married couple realizing their differing tastes and differing ages actually do matter; tension between a married couple who both like Bergman but maybe only one of them like likes Bergman. Bergman Island is an exclusive cocktail party at your graduate advisor's house. The evening begins with a naked poetry reading in the garden and ends with absinthe and cheese. There was even a time I would've been delighted to be invited.