Bergman Island: NYFF 2021 Review

Year: 2021
Runtime: 112 Minutes
Director: Mia Hansen-Love
Writer(s): Mia Hansen-Love
Stars: Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie

By Tom Moore

The latest from writer/director Mia Hansen-Love is an ode to one of film’s most prolific directors that explores inspiration in an isolated place.

The film follows a couple’s retreat to the titular “Bergman Island”(2021), dubbed so because of legendary director Ingmar Bergman notably going there for inspiration, in order to find their own inspiration for the screenplays they’re currently writing. Admittedly, I’m not much of a historical film buff, so my knowledge on Bergman and his work isn’t that strong and if you’re like me you might be a little lost on the film’s many references to the filmmaker and his work. There are multiple references and jokes tied to his films, lifestyle, and influences that will likely please fans of his work but could leave people unfamiliar with him a little in the dark. Regardless, Hansen-Love’s story surrounding the couple’s adoration of the filmmaker certainly leaves an impact and builds an impression of his influence and work that make you want to brush up on Bergman.

Even if you’re not exactly big on Bergman, there’s still plenty of great comedic chemistry and interesting story beats that Hansen-Love presents with “Bergman Island.” The dynamic between Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps, who I’m oddly seeing in everything lately, is really great as they deliver a lot of likeable charm as married couple Tony (Roth) and Chris (Krieps). The way they can be very playful with each other instantly puts a smile on your face and it’s hard not to appreciate how much Bergman’s work means to both of them and kind of connects them. Krieps especially excels with the freeing feeling she has in evoking Chris’ cravings for adventure and inspiration.

Chris’ search for inspiration in the wake of Tony’s screenplay success is actually a very interesting arc for her that’s deeply personal. That desperation for a spark in her creativity and overall life is something that makes her super relatable and easy to connect to. As her attempts to reignite the sparks in her marriage with Tony and in her creative process fail, it cuts deep simply because of how genuine Krieps’ performance is. She’s definitely the biggest standout of “Bergman Island” and delivers a really impactful performance that hits a strong emotional point. It’s just a shame that the film doesn’t exactly execute her exploring these feelings in an engaging way.

The idea of her running a screenplay by Tony to talk about her feelings and express some of the issues she’s had in their relationship is interesting and reveals some fractures. Tony’s resilience to giving concrete advice shows his lack of understanding for Chris’ creative faults and it’s interesting how these communication issues are seen through their relationship. However, it’s a sequence that goes on for way too long and its themes and meaning simply don’t come off all that clear because of how reality and this fantasy attempt to blend together. The performances from Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie as, I guess, fictional versions of Tony and Chris are good, but the story they’re involved in feels like an added slog that serves no direct purpose.

It doesn’t really contain the same kind of humorous charm or compelling story beats and it’s puzzling to try and figure out its connections to how Chris is feeling. The moment of these two stories coming together especially doesn’t click and leaves things on a strange note. Perhaps, there’s some connection to Bergman that Chris is trying to bring out through her story and connect to her relationship that’s simply going over my head because of my lack of knowledge. However, “Bergman Island’s” journey takes a narrative detour that just feels aimless and isn’t as easy to connect to.

Even for some of its narrative faults, Hansen-Love still manages to deliver a delightful comedic look into the creative process that sees Krieps and Roth come together in an enjoyable ode to a film icon.

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