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.

Only Lovers Left Alive

Written by Taylor Baker

95/100

“What is this quintessence of dust?”

An appetite for blood is exchanged for a lust of human culture. Written and instrumental, creators and sites of creation. The film begins with our characters Adam and Eve mirroring the vinyl Adam is listening to. Then the record stops and so does the rotation of the camera.

Only Lovers Left Alive appears to depict what life is like while the vampires are on the shelf, so to speak. Blood is acquired from sterile environments through social exchanges. Every encounter with a creature or plant elicits a hello and it’s Latin name from Eve’s lips, as if the creature is an old friend she’d expected to see again. Knowledge slips into Eve through her finger tips while Adam attempts to share and create through his own.

Adam believes he is truly alive and that the humans are zombies. Eve isn’t willing to consider it for a moment, belaboring on the rebirth of a location due to it’s quantity of water and the coming fire to push life north, to the waters edge. She knows that Adam is out of rotation and transverses the globe to get his world spinning again. The human world didn’t quit rotating, Adam did.

“Excellent, the name of Fibonacci.” Eve replies while booking her flight to see him. On the way back from Detroit she books under Daisy Buchanan of Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, and Adam as Stephen Dedalus of James Joyce’s The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses. Adam is in motion again but neither he nor Eve are steering their destiny. Now they are merely attempting to keep up.

“They only figure it out when it’s to late.”

Highly Recommended

Only Lovers Left Alive Trailer

Episode 84: VIFF Kickoff / The Devil All the Time / Sibyl / Siberia

“Life is what happens when you’re doing other things, right?”

Abel Ferrara

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of: The Trial of the Chicago 7 & Shithouse. Followed by The Devil All the Time, Sibyl, and the VIFF 2020 Official Selection Siberia.

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Streaming links for titles this episode

The Devil All the Time on Netflix

Siberia is currently seeking distribution

Sybil is currently available to rent from multiple sources.

The Devil All the Time

Written by Nick McCann

84/100

As far as getting new releases, this year bites. It’s a good thing the streaming platforms all had full banks to deploy. Admittedly I’m still not all that enthused with Netflix originals, but the output has been steadily improving these last few years. This particular release captured my interest with it’s Appalachia aesthetic and emphasis on story.

The story covers a range of characters, places and time periods. I found it reminiscent of when films strove for artistic quality on top of pure entertainment. I was hooked all the way through. It moves along at a slow pace. In each situation we see the fates of these characters come to fruition. Fate is the keyword. As you feel the momentum build up to a crescendo, you also come to realize the title itself bears good meaning. For all the faith a person can have, their inner demons always rear their heads. This is an involving and thematically rich tale full of betrayal, lust and suspense.

There’s a great cast. Each does an excellent job justifying the part they play. Tom Holland leads with his most raw role to date. You feel for him instantly once he comes on screen as a young man shaped by tragedy and trying to get by in gritty surroundings. This is another reliable turn out by Robert Pattinson as a borderline mad preacher. You also get a scuzzy Sebastian Stan, Jason Clarke being creepy, a brief turn from Mia Wasikowska and more. It’s the kind of movie where I loved getting to know the characters and watching them come together.

On the technical side, the production design was convincing at realizing this setting. In a rickety looking past that’s full of character. The cinematography delivers too, lingering on moments of heavy emotion and moving with life when things get lively. The soundtrack and score help sell the immersion of its time period. It’s the kind of movie where I wouldn’t mind seeing a normal day go on in this community.

There’s some fleeting bits of action when the emotions and suspense start to peak. These sequences are well executed, building up to the absolute edge before ending as fast as they start. The one nitpick I have is you can see where they edit a frame out to sell a punch better. Still there are some hard hitting beat downs. Scenes with guns fare much better with an emphasized realism on the violence. The blood and make-up effects are good. Don’t take this as saying its action at every turn. When conflict arises, it feels natural and is appealing in how grounded it is kept.

If this were on physical media, I can see myself picking up a copy. The Devil All the Time is a solid character drama that takes you on a good haul with a flawed and vulnerable ensemble. The world the film paints around them, one of misinterpretation and corruption, is one I found enjoyable to get engaged with.

The Devil All the Time Trailer

Currently available to stream on Netflix

Episode 83: An American Pickle / She Dies Tomorrow / Waiting for the Barbarians

“Losing all the preconceptions that I had about storytelling, about the world, you know, and learning to see the world from a different perspective. It sounds romantic, but it’s not an easy process at all.”

Ciro Guerra

Links: Apple Podcasts | Castbox | Google Podcasts | LibSyn | Spotify | Stitcher | YouTube

This week on Drink in the Movies Michael & Taylor discuss their First Impressions of a duo of Netflix Releases in The Devil All the Time & I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Followed by the Titles: An American Pickle, She Dies Tomorrow, and Waiting for the Barbarians.

We’d like to thank PODGO for sponsoring us this episode.
You can explore sponsorship opportunities and start monetizing your podcast by signing up here. And when you do let them know we sent you!

Visit us on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook

Streaming links for titles this episode

An American Pickle on HBO Max

She Dies Tomorrow and Waiting for the Barbarians on Hulu