c-bergmanisland

“Bergman Island” is a beautifully shot but ultimately hollow feeling film relying on the natural beauty of Fårö rather than a rich story or characters to carry the viewer.

“Bergman Island” is the latest film from French director Mia Hansen-Løve and stars Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth. The film is notable for being Hansen-Løve’s first English language feature, as well as being nominated for this year's Palme d’Or. 

The plot follows Tony and Chris (played by Roth and Krieps respectively), a couple who retreat to Fårö, the remote and sparsely populated island on which legendary Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman both lived and shot multiple films. Together, Tony and Chris try to finish their latest screenplays. They travel the island in search of inspiration and visit iconic Bergman locations along the way.

Information related to the main characters’ professions and purposes on the island is doled out at a leisurely pace over the runtime of “Bergman Island.” While I can easily see this aspect of the film being frustrating to some viewers, it is one of the film’s greatest achievements. It takes about 45 minutes of runtime until the viewer can understand Tony and Chris’ shared purpose. This choice makes the film alluring as the viewer’s questions are slowly but surely answered through visuals. A key example of this is learning that Tony is a big time, popular movie director. This information is conveyed through a screening of Tony’s latest film, followed by a Q&A and him being showered with praise from fans. This scene comes roughly 30 minutes in, which importantly adds rewatchability to “Bergman Island.” On subsequent viewings, the context of why the characters are on the island gives new clarity to earlier scenes.

Krieps is unquestionably the standout performance of the film, bringing her typical brand of timid tenderness to her character. I find myself constantly impressed with Krieps’ range as an actor. Over the past five years, she’s been able to excellently pull off both younger and middle-aged roles.

The color palette — consisting mostly of cool blues and green shades — evokes a dim autumnal, yet oceanic atmosphere, making for a calming and overall relaxing viewing experience. This is complemented by Fårö being absolutely gorgeous to look at. One little detail I absolutely adored was during a scene where Tony and Chris were texting, and they had a text history. While not a massive achievement, the list of major studio films that fail to do this is impressive.

Unfortunately, while I do enjoy some elements of the presentation of “Bergman Island,” there was also a great deal that was rather annoying. A decent chunk of runtime is dedicated to characters gawking at iconic locations from Ingmar Bergman’s films, as well as some characters engaging in light conversation about Bergman’s personal life and the meaning of his films. There are even a few shots intentionally replicating iconic Bergman imagery. While I wouldn’t call myself a Bergman superfan, I appreciate the faint homage. However, these moments feel like dead air, and I struggle to grasp what a Bergman superfan would even glean from them, beyond some form of vicarious self-satisfaction.

The other major issue with “Bergman Island” is the pacing of the story. The plot itself is rather minimal and feels stretched incredibly thin across the nearly two-hour runtime. This is most apparent when Chris pitches her next film to Tony in a section that occupies the majority of the film’s second half. While I did find this film-within-a-film engaging, it felt mostly like a retread of the thematic content of the movie’s first half. The characters end up feeling like they are a means to a thematic end rather than actual developed people.

It should be acknowledged that Bergman worship is far from the thematic core of the film. The themes of romance and creativity are the earnest center of “Bergman Island.” Ultimately, this is a well-constructed, well put together and solid film. Unfortunately, I find it relies mostly on themes and Fårö’s beauty to carry what it lacks in a great story or great characters. 

In conclusion, I give “Bergman Island” a 5/10. I would say that if you are a bigger Bergman fan than I, this is definitely worth a shot because perhaps I am missing out on some deeper thematic connection to Bergman’s past work. Maybe you just want something pretty to look at. Either way, the film is far from lacking substance, so it isn’t the worst way to kill two hours.

culture@dailynebraskan.com