Cannes 2021: How to Be Inspired By the Past Visiting 'Bergman Island'
by Alex Billington
July 16, 2021
It's not easy to make a good film. It's also not easy to make a good film about the filmmaking process. But many filmmakers have tried, and a few do succeed. Nowadays, many filmmakers like to reminisce about the past and dream about making films as unforgettable as their cinema heroes - Scorsese, Welles, Fellini, Lean, Hitchcock, Kubrick, Varda, Buñuel, Bergman. But how do you go about letting yourself be inspired by these filmmakers in just the right way to make a film that is also as iconic and unforgettable as their films? That's one of the questions are the core of this film – Bergman Island, the latest feature written & directed by French filmmaker Mia Hansen-Løve. She takes us on a light and breezy stroll around the island of Fårö, located off the coast of Sweden to the south of Stockholm, better known as "Bergman Island" because he spent lots of time living there and even shot a few of his films there. What can a visit to this island teach us?
Mia Hansen-Løve's Bergman Island at first introduces us to Tony, played by Tim Roth, and Chris, played by Vicky Krieps. Tony is a filmmaker working on his latest project while visiting the island with Chris, who is there for an artist's retreat taking the chance to unwind and work on writing her latest screenplay. They explore the island, visit Bergman's personal screening room, take tours of various locations, and participate in screenings and seminars. Eventually the film introduces another new narrative, featuring Amy, played by Mia Wasikowska, and Joseph, played by Anders Danielsen Lie, ex lovers who still have feelings for each other that re-ignite when they reconnect at a mutual friend's wedding also on Fårö. But this story is a visualization of the screenplay that Chris is writing, though as the film plays out we start to realize they're intertwined and one story might be more honest, and Amy might just be Chris pondering her own feelings.
I love how much Mia Hansen-Løve mocks Bergman obsession, and I think the film is about learning how to let yourself be naturally influenced by the life of an iconic filmmaker, rather than following the formula and going to their museums and reading about them, being told about them, and so on. You don't ever pick up on how they worked that way unless you get "lost" in their world, and inspired in your own way. It's a very meta film about screenwriting and filmmaking, and Mia works a lot of herself into the story by showing us exactly how one can be influenced by filmmakers like Bergman, and how this allows her to create distinct work that reflects her experiences as a person (and as a storyteller). The more you obsess over a filmmaker and try to follow in his/her footsteps, you'll likely end up making something derivative. But if you end up lost in the same way he/she was, literally on the exact same island, you might end up making a better film.
I really, really enjoyed watching Bergman Island. It's another light and breezy walk-and-talk film from Mia Hansen-Løve that is less about Bergman and more about the many loves one has in their life. Along with the drifting, fluidity of romance and life. There's much more hiding on this island than just a story about love. The unique structure of this film is daring, I found it refreshing and particularly bold when she pushes the dual narratives even further. There's a meaning to it that is worth considering. I just love the way Hansen-Løve tells her stories in her films. And how she brings such lightness and appreciation for life to sometimes complex and melancholic stories. I enjoy thinking about them and letting them remain on my mind as I process them and continue on with my own life. And there's more than just one interpretation, there's more to pick up on than the meta story about filmmaking. Perhaps we all need to visit "Bergman Island" one day.