Bergman Island features a movie-within-a-movie and makes a fatal error: the fake film is way more interesting than Bergman Island itself. This makes the whole affair feel incredibly uneven. It had me wishing that either the real life and script worlds were reversed, or that it was simply a straightforward portrayal of one or the other. As it stands, writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve simply cannot pick her lane.
After opening credits rattle loudly out on a keyboard, we follow an anxious couple on board a plane to Sweden punctuated by heavy turbulence. Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth) are on their way to Fårö, an island where legendary filmmaker Ingar Berman lived and worked. It is here that Chris hopes to put the finishing touches on her screenplay that just happens to be missing an ending. The film Chris hopes to make with Tony is essentially a rom-com focusing on a three day period in the life of filmmaker Amy (Mia Wasikowska). Amy is spending time on Fårö to attend a wedding with an ex, yet her true intentions lie in the hopeful rekindling of her former flame. In my favorite scene from the film, Amy and Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie) dance to ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All”.
The cinematography and landscape is beautiful and picturesque; it especially dazzles during the film-within-a-film segment. Amy should have been the film’s de facto lead character, and the boring bits with the other couple excised entirely. Every time the narrative framing device loops back around to Chris and Tony, Bergman Island becomes a boring and repetitive mess of meta movie references. As Tony recalls, Bergman once said “hell is to watch his movies over and over.” While I would not quite say it was a hellish experience to get through Bergman Island, I longed for a shifted focus and an expansion of its romantic possibilities.
Bergman Island was scooped up by IFC Films ahead of its 2021 debut at the Cannes Film Festival, with a release date to be announced.