Bergman Island Review: Sweet But Missing Something Special

Mia Hansen-Løve returns with a sweet and thoughtful rumination on love and creativity, but something feels amiss here.

Bergman island cast


Mia Hansen-Løve returns with a sweet and thoughtful rumination on love and creativity, but something feels amiss here.

Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony Sanders (Tim Roth) are a filmmaking couple who escape to the idyllic beauty of Fårö, the home island of Ingrid Bergman, to work on their individual projects. Chris struggles with Bergman’s work, admiring his filmmaking but criticising his personal life while Tony admires Bergman greatly. 

As Chris especially struggles to write her narrative, the lines between reality and the fictional characters she’s created start to blur. 

Bergman Island has very little plot. There are no twists, no betrayals (unless you count Tony’s unsavoury drawings as such) and definitely no action shots of anyone with a weapon of any kind. In other words, Bergman Island can be a tad boring. 

Bergman Island

The only thing keeping the story going are the characters who often seem infuriatingly shallow. Krieps and Roth do their best to inject them with a sense of identity and some sort of personality, but they both seem like blank slates for the audience to project their feelings onto. 

Roth especially is always a welcome addition to any cast, but there’s nothing in Hansen-Løve’s script to challenge him. Roth’s main objective is to remain distant and constantly look vaguely uninterested in everything. There was an opportunity here to have some fun, but Bergman Island is a very serious film and one that also takes itself much too seriously. 

The only amusing part of Bergman Island is just how obnoxious Hansen-Løve makes film nerds be. There are plenty of references to Bergman and his films and film people are portrayed as obsessive, self-centred and just plain irritating. The community within Fårö are weary and tired of the Bergman nerds and appropriately shun them, politely. 

There’s been some speculation that Bergman Island loosely reflects Hansen-Løve’s relationship with filmmaker Oliver Assayas. If so, it’s not represented in a positive light, but at its best, Bergman Island is a fascinating exploration of creativity in a relationship. While the dynamic between Chris and Tony is frustratingly passive, there are insightful points made about romance and ego and how they affect our own creativity, to either sharpen it or dull it.

Bergman island Mia Wasikowska

But for a film about love, and to an extent, passion, Bergman Island is also almost completely sexless. Not that every film has to include graphic sex, but while there is some nudity, Bergman Island still comes across as prudish and naive in that sense. Where’s the passion? Hansen-Løve’s camera and furthermore, her gaze is so passive it borders on indifferent. 

About half-way through, Bergman Island turns delightfully meta as Chris describes her story to Tony, with Mia Wasikowska starring as the main character Amy in it. This part of the film is tender and sexy, even if it never quite draws the lines between Amy and Chris. As a character, Amy isn’t likeable; she’s desperate, weak and unable to see the harm in her ways. While Hansen-Løve manages to carry the story nicely, it’s hard to be emotionally invested in characters this shallow. 

At least Bergman Island looks gorgeous. It captures Fårö and Sweden in all their glory, with clear skies, lush greens and a restless sea. Hansen-Løve definitely romanticises Sweden and the entire writing process. These writers, clearly wealthy, can escape to another country to be inspired while the rest of us have to find inspiration in our cramped rooms in North London.

Leave a Reply

More like this