CIFF 2021- “Bergman Island” and the Commodification of an Icon: Film Review

There is no doubt that Ingmar Bergman was one of the most talented individuals to ever work in the film industry. From Persona to The Seventh Seal to Scenes From a Marriage, Bergman’s work is still discussed and analyzed today. Yet Bergman Island ponders the divergence and distortion between art and artist and how the emotion of a piece can become lost in the process.

Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth) are two filmmakers with a bad case of writers’ block who make a pilgrimage to Ingmar Bergman’s home island of Fårö to find inspiration. Except the island appears to have been sucked dry of its creative resources.

The island is as beautiful as ever, with lush greenery, sandy beaches, and perfectly maintained 18th century windmills populating the environment. However, in the wake of Bergman’s death, Fårö has become a tourist mecca for cinema aficionados. The beauty of the island is overshadowed by Bergman Safaris and other tourist attractions that immortalize and idolize the filmmaker. As we follow Tony on the Bergman Safari, we become witnesses to the de-evolution of Bergman’s art into simple factoids and schematics about titles. The island that had such a profound effect on Bergman has been transformed into an amusement park for cinephiles.

The commodification of art is obviously not a new development, but it feels particularly painful to see such a prolific filmmaker reduced to a sideshow. This pang of sorrow feels present in the first half of Hansen-Løve’s film particularly in Chris’ amazement of the island. Instead of partaking in the safari and Bergman trivia night, Chris tries to embody the filmmaker by discovering the island and all the hidden treasures it has to offer by herself.

The first half of Bergman Island is so thematically rich and serenely pleasing that it’s a shame that Hansen-Løve throws most of it away in favor of a mediocre meta narrative. Roughly an hour into the film, Bergman Island shifts the focus away from Tony and Chris and centers the narrative on an entirely new set of characters. There’s is nothing wrong with this new couple, played by Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie, because we know so little about them. The new couple is introduced so late into the feature that it becomes a jarring jolt to the pacing of Bergman Island.

As Chris learns on her independent excursions through Fårõ, an artist is greater than any one monument or piece of art. Likewise, even though Bergman Island loses its focus in the second half, it does not diminish the emotional contemplation that is so richly developed in the first hour.

The Silver Lining

Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth are magnetic in Bergman Island as the directing couple, Chris and Tony. Much like the slient beauty of the landscape of Fårö, Krieps and Roth’s performances are relaxed and reserved. Coupled with their sweet passive-aggressiveness at times, Krieps and Roth’s connection resembles that of a decade long marriage and not of two actors who just met on set. Their performances are so serenading that it’s likely the reason why the narrative shift in the second half is so jarring.

Bergman Island is playing is select theaters this Friday, October 15th (find a screening near you here) and on VOD on October 22nd.

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