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'Bergman Island' Review: A meta exploration of cinephilia

'Bergman Island' - Mia Hansen-Løve

Like many great filmmakers, Ingmar Bergman continues to maintain a strong cult following of cinephiles from all over the world who explore the fundamental truths of the human condition through his cinema. Due to the interaction between cultural perceptions and artistic creations, the legacy of an artist takes different forms over time.

How should we analyse the legacy of a filmmaker whose fame has become so mythological that each and every part of his life has become a commodity? That’s the question that Mia Hansen-Løve asks in her latest film Bergman Island which follows an artistic couple who travel to Bergman’s home on the picturesque island of Fårö while looking for artistic inspiration.

Tim Roth stars as Tony – a celebrated filmmaker who is a huge Bergman fan, with Vicky Krieps featuring as his partner. Although the part was initially supposed to go to Greta Gerwig, Krieps is fantastic as Chris – a director suffering from a writer’s block unlike Tony who is pretty productive during his creative process.

Bergman Island focuses on the trials and tribulations of Chris who slowly comes to terms with who she is as an artist and the often-problematic relationship between being a woman as well as an artist. Simultaneously, the film explores the various elements of Bergman’s extensive mythology while conducting a sociocultural analysis of cinephilia.

Talking about the film’s focus in an interview, Mia Hansen-Løve explained: “I was certainly interested in trying to show what it is to be an artist and a writer from a female perspective. In the history of cinema, I don’t know if there are any well-known films about women filmmakers that have been made before.”

The island of Fårö was once a monastery for Bergman but Bergman Island explores the logical extension of such a culturally significant location. It has now been transformed into a tourist attraction which draws ‘Bergmaniacs’ from various countries. While there’s something beautiful about such a union, there are also tragic implications that follow.

Mia Hansen-Løve does not just highlight the widespread admiration for Bergman but also the sentiments of those who are thoroughly unimpressed by the tourists who continue to view all of Sweden through the lens of one reclusive director. That’s exactly how the film exposes the limits of cinephilia, showing us Bergman’s universe which has been transformed into a zoo with an official safari and a tour app.

In addition to these investigations, Bergman Island also focuses on the creative process by playing out a “story within a story” as Chris narrates her idea for a screenplay to her partner whose attention keeps drifting away. Soon, reality starts bleeding into fiction and vice versa while Mia Hansen-Løve experiments with narrative structures.

For many, going to Fårö has become a pilgrimage but one important question is what is being absorbed by the artists who go there? Are they seeking artistic inspiration from the lingering essence of Bergman or is it just an onanistic celebration of the extreme commodification that Bergman’s entire life history has been subjected to?

One particular anecdote by Lars von Trier will inevitably pop into the mind of the viewer (if they are familiar with it) while thinking of the questions raised by the film. Although the pilgrims tour the library and the home theatre of Bergman while imagining the brilliant ideas conceived there, von Trier revealed that the auteur spent a lot of time masturbating in all those places in his later years.

“This power figure in Swedish cultural life sat there jerking off like crazy,” Lars von Trier commented. “I imagine he had a small seminal vesicle… When we talk about icons, it’s important to remember that they shit just like we shit just like we shit, they vomit just like we vomit and they masturbate just like we masturbate.”