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MOVIES: Bergman Island - Review



Bergman Island is fantastic. Mia Hansen-Løve is an extraordinarily gifted filmmaker and as a fan of Ingmar Bergman myself, even if it’s been a few years since I’ve seen a wide portion of his movies, it was great to see, to put it bluntly, something that was almost the opposite of a movie that was made “for the fans”. Whilst there is a sense of idolisation of the director here it is more of a takedown of auteur-theory – spending much of the time through its principal characters on a remote island where the director shot many of his films, this movie immediately lets you know where it stands – it’s nihilistic in its approach to Bergman’s films. It used his rich history and heavy influence over the canon of European cinema to craft a meta-textualized multi-layered romance, interweaving the lives of different characters through a course of a film.

A filmmaker flies to Sweden with her husband to stay at Bergman’s home, and whilst there – pitches him a story of her first love. We see flashbacks – or flashforwards – of that story being told on the screen, with Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie both playing key roles. It’s an even narrative split between the two actors and Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps, who both take centre stage here as the couple in question – but the tonal shift to literally, a completely different movie – could have felt totally abrupt and could have thrown me off but absolutely works.

Whilst Bergman fans may get the most out of Bergman Island it is accessible to those who are not familiar with his work – films like Winter Light are mentioned with care and precision, and Scenes from a Marriage is also namedropped, with the main characters spending their stay sleeping on a bed that was used in a film that broke up thousands of marriages. If you’re the kind of person who laughed at the joke in Olivier Assayas’ Non-Fiction that compared Star Wars and Michael Haneke, this will be your kind of humour – meta without being smug with it, and the soundtrack fits the mood perfectly – Summer Wine and The Winner Takes It All are chosen as lyrics that fit into the context of the feature, bound to stick in your head afterwards, but always fitting the mood of a film.

ABBA might not have been your first go-to artist for a film about the legacy of Ingmar Bergman, but it suits the mood perfectly. It’s less of a film about Bergman though, which certainly helps - and more about who his work influences – and the affect that it has, both good and bad, transformative in its bid to recapture the rock that played host to much of his fiction (even if it was down to budget reasons, Scotland was disregarded as a location for one of Bergman's films due to its cost, he opted to film it on the island instead). It’s fitting to watch this back-to-back with Spencer – both films share comparatively similar themes – even the story-within-a-story is set over a similar timeframe. But both are uniquely entrancing experiences – and the stabs at the crowd that idolise directors’ work without reproach are always welcome in an age where people’s favourites can do no wrong in their eyes.

But above all else; Bergman Island works as a movie that almost feels designed to offer a new take on his legacy. Rather than capturing another tale about the sense of finality in life, Hansen-Løve dares to ask: what if life was about the beginning?

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