Located in the Baltic Sea, just off the southeast coast of Sweden, the island of Fårö is about 44 square miles and is home to a few hundred residents. It’s a beautiful island, full of limestone rocks and deep green pine trees, surrounded by cold blue water. But it is not the water or the trees or the rocks that Tony (Tim Roth) and Chris (Vicky Krieps) have come to Fårö. They have come because Fårö was once home to the great Swedish director, Ingmar Bergman.
Bergman came to Fårö in 1961, at the suggestion of his cinematographer Sven Nykvist, as a possible location for their latest collaboration, Through a Glass Darkly. Bergman didn’t immediately fall for the island, but he did agree to make Glass on Fårö and subsequent titles there, including his masterpiece, 1966’s Persona. Eventually, Bergman moved his life to the island, tried to set up a production company on Fårö, and even made a couple of documentaries about the island and the people living there. Today, the residents of Fårö have turned Bergman into a tourist trap. You can take a guided Bergman safari around the island and see where he filmed his movies, watch a Bergman movie in Bergman’s private screening room—where a seat is always reserved for the ghost of Bergman—visit the Bergman offices, stay in the Bergman home, tour the Bergman museum, even check out the Bergman gift shop where you can buy a replica of the sunglass Bibi Anderson wore in Persona.
And that’s what Tony and Chris do. Both are filmmakers, and they’ve come to the island hoping that the spirit of Bergman will inspire their work—though Chris has some hesitations about working in such a large shadow. “No one expects you to make Persona,” Tony tells her unconvincingly.
It’s a neat trick writer/director Mia Hansen-Løve pulls with Tony and Chris. For the first hour of Bergman Island, she leads you to believe Tony is the Bergman fan of the two and that Chris is drug along for the ride. He’s the one giving master classes at the cinema, the one who keeps taking phone calls from producers, and the one excited to sleep in the bed where Scenes From a Marriage was shot. The bed that “inspired a million divorces,” the housekeeper says. Even under the best circumstances, I would approach that bed with caution.
But Chris is the real Bergman fan here, and it’s the script she’s working on that comes closest to the spirit of Fårö. Her movie is about a 20-something woman coming to the island for a wedding and running into her first love. A decade of choices has transpired in the interim, but their affection remains.
You don’t need to have seen a Bergman movie to get Bergman Island, the reference points are explained, and the jokes are accessible. And you don’t need to know Hansen-Løve’s backstory to get that Bergman Island is a personal piece of work, possibly autobiographical. The movie Chris is making feels right at home of Fårö. And the actors she casts, Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie, are perfect extensions of another story Chris is working her way through: Romantic relationships and the space they inhabit—or don’t—when the subject is a creative type. A question found in many Bergman films shot on the island of Fårö. Safaris, gift shops, martial beds or not, both Hansen-Løve and Chris have found a home for their stories.
Bergman Island (2021)
Written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve
Produced by Charles Gillibert, Erik Hemmendorff, Rodrigo Teixeira, Lisa Widén
Starring: Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, Mia Wasikowska, Anders Danielsen Lie
IFC Films, Rated R, Running time 112 minutes, Opens Oct. 15, 2021, in select theaters and on VOD starting Oct. 22.