Cannes Review: Bergman Island

Breathing in the air that the master breathed, staying in his home and becoming saturated with all manner of first-hand Bergman-iana has in no way qualified Bergman Island writer-director Mia Hansen-Love to be mentioned in the same breath as the late Swedish master Ingmar Bergman, much less make a film about his aura and legacy. Lazy, unimaginative and incapable of expressing admiration for Bergman in any meaningful way, this story of a couple who make a pilgrimage to Faro Island to soak in the man’s influence, is a very poor excuse for an homage except as a travelogue. When Woody Allen did it, it was both sincere and very funny.

The first few minutes of the director’s seventh feature will be interesting to fans who have never been to Faro Island, where Bergman lived and worked for so long that it’s became a sort of Mecca for international admirers of the man. To get there, writer Tony (Tim Roth) and director Chris (Vicky Krieps) need to fly to Sweden, drive a couple of hours and take a ferry to the island where Bergman lived and worked and often made his films. It has, in fact, become a tourist attraction, albeit a modest one, and Tony and Chris have been motivated to come out of curiosity and the hope for inspiration.

The first 20 minutes or so do hold a certain interest simply on a touristic basis. It’s hard to think of any other filmmaker whose home, like those of certain presidents, has become a travel destination. Still, I once made a pilgrimage to Yasujiro Ozu’s grave in Japan; on his tombstone is simply inscribed the word “mu,” which means “everything and nothing.”

“How can I sit here and not feel like a loser?,” cries Chris in despair as she sizes up Bergman’s body of work, which not only consists of 30-odd scripts and films but also plays and books. Well, you probably can’t, but Chris has to find out the hard way by getting down to work with Tony on a script she’s been thinking about. She figures that sitting in Ingmar’s chair and just existing in his lingering aura might be enough to inspire them to unprecedented heights of creativity on their next project.

Ahhh, how presumptuous mere creative mortals can be. While Tony begs off and basically disappears from the scene (it’s impossible to make heads or tails of the pair’s relationship, so thinly is the film written), Chris tries to dive into the script, prompting a jump into a film-within-a-film to represent what she has written to date.

In this, the female lead, Amy (Mia Wasikowska) mopes around trying to revive the attention of her former lover, Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie), who momentarily renews romantic interest in her, but not for long.

These scenes are far weaker than the pallid ones between Chris and Tony, the latter of whom seems to lose interest in the entire project and just takes off; it must be said that the male roles are particularly poorly written, giving the actors nothing to play.

So the film just sort of peters out, leaving the viewer with nothing other than a vivid sense of the quiet, beautiful environment in which Bergman secluded himself when he was working. That something like this was felt to have the right stuff to be included in the Cannes competition is concerning, even if the director is French and has a track record.

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