Mia Hansen-Løve’s tribute to Ingmar Bergman is one of undying fondness. In her film Bergman Island
, she has channeled her love for the director into every aspect of the direction. Apart from being a sort of tour through key dates, and a look into the man’s personality, the movie’s designed like one of his. The story is meandering and observational, not really culminating in a conclusion. The cinematography is reminiscent of Sven Nykvist’s, with the trademark minimalism. The dialogue is freely flowing and engaging. Most importantly, the moral conundrum presented isn’t concretely defined and the film is more meant to be experienced than understood.
Ingmar Bergman is possibly the most unfortunate of filmmakers in the sense that his works, owing to their brilliance, are subject to much more critical analysis than others, and in my opinion, than any works of art deserve. On the quest to understand how much of a genius he truly was, his works have been broken down frame by frame to further enhance our appreciation. The mysticism that defines Bergman’s rugged presentation of ruthless realities, is better understood because of years of clinical study, but the romanticism in his portrayal of the mundane is lost because of the clear definition established for his style. Film is magic in one of its purest forms, but with the vulnerability of having all its tricks out in the open for anyone to pick and deconstruct. However, too much scrutiny could ruin the fluidity by setting in concrete what’s really meant to be read between the lines and kept to oneself. It’s precisely the lack of such extensive scrutiny which makes Bergman Island so naturally loveable. The cinematic and thematic parallels, and innumerable allusions to the man’s personal life and work, are testimony to the amount of hard work done, but the filmmaking itself, isn’t desperate in its attempt to recreate the magic of which it is born.
is shown like in a tourism video, with fascinating anecdotes, like the fact that Through a Glass Darkly
was in fact shot in studio, with only the façade of the house being constructed. There’s also minimal insight into the man, like the story of his children and his wives. It feels like a documentary in these moments but is like a treasure hunt for any fan of the man. Of course the trivia can be found on the Internet, but the reminder that this location was personally meaningful to Bergman makes it even more suitable for the place where the Bergman-like story unfolds. One trademark element of Ingmar Bergman’s narratives is a story set inside a story. In almost all of his most celebrated works, one or more characters recount anecdotes. It’s not necessary that the anecdotes will reflect on the main narrative, or even be consequential in the context, but they almost always provide insight into the character and are all without fail, engaging. You’ll not mind diverting from the story, because that story’s equally compelling in its own way. And Bergman Island
has almost half of the film unfold like that. The lines get blurred between fiction and reality as the woman who is describing the story of the film seems to essentially be the protagonist of the film, and you can no longer understand if this is purely fantastic, or an event she is fictionalizing, or a hidden desire of hers.
Eventually, the gap between protagonist and storyteller is left unclarified as the delectable ambiguous ending only leaves you with wonder. It’s not agonizing, the lack of clarity, but is reminiscent of the extensive use of symbolism in Ingmar Bergman’s own films. You can spend hours theorizing about the inset story, debating about which of the two narratives is more essential. Alternatively, you can live in the moment and experience the characters’ dilemmas. The morality of the story aside, it’s a beautiful look into how unspoken desires reside in the weary corners of our hearts, and how heartbreak accumulates. The marriage of the central couple is in the grey area that’s very trademark of Ingmar Bergman. However, the deconstruction of romantic dynamics isn’t carried to climax. Scenes from a Marriage
is his most famous work on this, but be it Wild Strawberries
or Winter Light