What Happens on Bergman Island, Stays on Bergman Island

Love and art on a remote Baltic outpost

In the same way that it’s possible to enjoy Pride and Prejudice and Zombies without having read much Austen, don’t let a skimpy acquaintance with the films of Ingmar Bergman keep you from Mia Hansen-Løve’s Bergman Island.

The movie will give you plenty of context, along with a new bucket-list destination–Fårö, the remote island in the Baltic Sea where the celebrated Swedish director shot a number of films, beginning with 1961’s Through a Glass DarklyA cultural center focused on his life and work draws Bergman fans from around the globe to its annual summer festival.

Tim Roth plays Tony, a top-billed festival guest, of sufficient stature as a filmmaker to snag plum accommodation in the picturesque, traditional home once occupied by one of Bergman’s ex-wives.

BERGMAN ISLAND ★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Directed by: Mia Hansen-Løve
Written by: Mia Hansen-Løve
Starring: Tim Roth, Vicky Krieps, Mia Wasikowska, AndersDanielsen Lie
Running time: 112 mins

The sturdy local showing Tony and his luminious wife, Chris (Vicky Krieps) around their Bergman Island quarters offhandedly informs them that the main bedroom appears in Scenes from a Marriage. “The film that caused thousands of couples to divorce.”

Tony and Chris appear affectionate and well matched, but Hansen-Løve gently probes the ways in which their union is divided.

Tony perches on the rocky shore in jeans and a sweater, as Chris splashes playfully in the ocean.

They can’t settle on a mutually agreeable title for a private viewing in the modified barn that served as Bergman’s personal screening room.

Chris leaves Tony to take the Bergman Safari without her, when a pleasant young Swede offers to her an impromptu tour of the island’s best Bergman sites.

Both are working on screenplays, he in their cottage’s non-Scenes from a Marriage bedroom, she in the windmill across the way–but she’s making little headway, and he…well, let’s just say, if you have an opportunity to steal a peek inside your significant other’s private notebook, resist.

Later, Chris asks Tony if she can talk him through what she’s managed to outline, in hopes that he might help her brainstorm an ending.

Instead of an ending, we get a whole extra movie, as Chris’ screenplay becomes a film within this film. It too features an couple (Mia Wasikowska and AndersDanielsen Lie) although this one is technically no longer together. They also go to Fårö, where they’re attending a mutual friend’s wedding. What it lacks in Bergman tourism, it makes up with tears, partying and sex.

These characters are at an earlier stage of life than Chris and Tony, who are parents, and more prone to inattention than passionate confrontations.

Although Chris’ story has a strongly autobiographical flavor, one can imagine Tony conceiving of a similarly passionate plotline, though the telling of it would be markedly different in his hands…or, presumably, Bergman’s.

Director Hansen-Løve, who shot in the pandemic, and began filming a year before knowing who would be playing Tony, infuses the narrative(s) with a sense of quiet, rule breaking flexiblity.

Not much happens, but her multi-tiered storytelling is cause for deeper reflection.

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Ayun Halliday

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.

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