VIFF 2021 Review: Bergman Island

Written by Taylor Baker

88/100

Mia Hansen-Løve’s seventh feature length film entitled Bergman Island is in essence a meta fictional island getaway trip to work on new creative projects for a couple. The titular island is called Fårö, Ingmar Bergman’s palatial getaway where he crafted some of his greatest masterpieces, and some of the world’s greatest moving images. The couple Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth), are each artists if not artisans working at their next projects, battling through writer’s block, and more conventionally navigating their relationship whilst doing it. Occasionally when a film is meta, deferential and/or (in this case both) referential to previous work I find myself making comparisons to other previous works of art in an effort to reach toward understanding their contents, themes, and ideas to myself or to hold the idea(s) of them in my head from another angle, at arm’s reach rather than up close, or from afar rather than in the room with me. An alliterative title that keeps doing laps in my head is that of a rebranding of Woody Allen’s Vicky Christina Barcelona, instead Mia Chris Fårö. Mia Wasikowska joins us in the last third of the film as Chris begins sharing her incomplete screenplay draft with Tony to try and get advice on whether he thinks there’s anything to it. Wasikowska seems to be Chris’s stand in and thus Mia Hansen-Løve’s stand in (If you’re willing to concede that Chris is Hansen-Løve’s stand in to begin with.) Are you losing track of the metaphor? Me too. That’s part of the game with these films within films about films, especially when those films are self aware of the source material.

It’s not clear to a final delineation of comprehension exactly what Hansen-Løve’s point is at the end of the film as Wasikowska’s Amy fades and Chris returns running through a field to hold her daughter. But the spirit of the idea, the ghost of the understanding is there. We spend time throughout the film learning of Bergman’s successes and failings, at one point in a dinner conversation Chris essentially asks, “Do you think he could have been the artist he was and also been a better father?” This is in reference to him having nine children from six mothers before the age of forty, to which her dinner companion scoffs in a jovial laugh and says something to the effect of “Do you think you can direct 24 films not to mention plays before 40 and spend your time changing diapers?”. There’s the ghost of a sacrifice there that Hansen-Løve herself is tackling, through Chris. What is more meaningful? The “work”? Or the family? And perhaps more deeply why can’t the family be the work? These aren’t revolutionary questions or ideations, they are eternal, Bergman himself explored them, but not in the same ways. In that way Hansen-Løve’s film isn’t just an homage using his name, it’s building on the foundation that predated Bergman but accenting itself on the very body of his labor. Revitalizing it in a way, paying deference in another, and more interestingly acknowledging the intimate relationship between an artist and an observer of the art as a relationship itself. Something that Chris herself seeks from Tony during her recounting of her screenplay whilst he receives phone calls, and treats it less deferentially than we’ve seen Chris treating Bergman’s work up to this point. What’s interesting though is it’s not a pointed finger from Hansen-Løve teaching a lesson about the absent minded husband not paying proper attention to his wife. Half a dozen times before this falling action we’ve seen Chris blow off Tony or not take his pieces of work seriously. It’s not that one is right or wrong, so much as acknowledging the intimacy that comes when someone truly connects with a piece, or pieces in a way that maps not only onto their identity but how they express themselves in the world.

All that serious thematic content may make it sound more dour and more stern or observational than it actually is. There’s a scene where Krieps’ Chris walks into the bathroom she and Tony share, the one from Scenes from a Marriage and she simply brushes her teeth. But as she’s brushing them she begins seemingly unprovoked to chortle with laughter, eventually reaching a near hysterical level. It’s not something everyone in the theater got to share, not most, not half, not even an eighth of an at capacity Vancouver Playhouse Theater understood the inside joke of. But those of us(maybe you, dear reader) who’d borne witness to some of the history of that location had a different elatory experience with Chris. The very idea that she was brushing her teeth in the same bathroom where Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson’s Marianne and Johan shot their masterpiece Scenes from a Marriage is simply hilarious. Fårö itself but especially the room Chris and Tony share, is practically a religious site for cinephiliacs, of which Hansen-Løve is clearly one. There’s shared history and through that shared emotions.

Hansen-Løve through Chris inquires as to the religiosity of Bergman himself, she and seemingly Hansen-Løve herself learned on her own trip or through her own study that he believed in ghosts before he passed. This idea of a ghost isn’t overtly dug into, it’s at the corners, the creases of the film, the backgrounds, a figure passing in front of window, or perhaps a Hansen-Løve surrogate named Chris played by Vicky Krieps having a joyful one might say soulful laugh at the very premise of brushing her teeth in the same bathroom Scenes from a Marriage was shot in.

Bergman Island Trailer

Bergman Island was screened as part of 2021 edition of the Vancouver International Film Festival.

You can follow more of Taylor’s thoughts on LetterboxdTwitter, and Rotten Tomatoes.

Crisis (Kris)

Written by Michael Clawson

60/100

“Let the play begin”, says a narrator as the camera pushes toward the window of a house from outside, while inside, a woman opens the window’s curtain. It marks the beginning of the film as well as Bergman’s career, this being his debut, and evident immediately is an idea that would run throughout his filmography: life as theater. 

About that narration: it’s not great. Neither is the movie in general, but it’s fine, and better than its reputation suggests. It’s about 18 year-old Nelly and her foster mother, whose quiet, small-town lives are upended when Nelly’s biological mother arrives suddenly, and lures Nelly away to the city with the promise of a job and urban pleasures. Nelly’s foster mother is ill and devastated to see Nelly go, and things go awry for Nelly when she gets mixed up with her biological mother’s younger lover.

Some characters are much better developed than others, and the tone can be inconsistent. Bergman reveals a natural sense for composition though, and the film’s visual appeal took me far enough. A flawed but still interesting movie about maternal grief and disillusionment in young adulthood.

Crisis Trailer

Crisis is currently streaming on The Criterion Channel and a restored version is currently available for free on YouTube from the channel Old Films Revival Project.

Scenes from a Marriage

Written by Michael Clawson

100/100

An intensely emotional two-hander about the dissolution of a marriage. Shot almost entirely with extreme close-ups, Bergman puts a couple’s years-long emotional odyssey under a microscope, taking intimacy between viewer and character to new heights.

Each installment recontextualizes what came before it in such devastating ways. In “Innocence and Panic”, Johan and Marianne’s interview with a magazine about their seemingly idyllic relationship feels merely like a foundation for the story to come. Later, we learn that not only has Johan been unfaithful, but also that Marianne is the last in their social circle to know, revealing that Marianne unwittingly humiliated herself by participating the interview. It’s thrown in new light again when it surfaces that Marianne was also unfaithful, albeit earlier in their marriage, which further complicates our understanding of who she is. 

Also in episode one, Marianne has an abortion after accidentally getting pregnant. It’s much later that we learn their two kids were also the result of accidental pregnancies, which establishes the abortion as a sort of inciting event for the unwinding of their relationship. It’s their first act of resistance against expectations in years, made with themselves in mind, not others, and it leads them to contemplate what other decisions they’ve made for the sake of appearances and satisfying others.

Episode 4 – “The Vale of Tears” – is when the essence of the story crystallized for me. As Marianne shares entries from her diary with Johan, there’s a montage of photographs of Johan and Marianne throughout their lives. It’s one of the film’s most jarring visual transitions, and it suggests that the problems that infected Johan and Marianne’s relationship might be rooted in traits they acquired long before they ever met. Societal pressure to put others first, avoid conflict, repress desire and anger, and  keep routine made them unprepared for the emotional turbulence that characterizes their relationship.

Scenes from a Marriage Trailer

Scenes from a Marriage is currently available on Criterion Channel, HBO Max, and Kanopy