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'Bergman Island' covers a lot of emotional and artistic ground

Vicky Krieps as ‘Chris’ and Tim Roth as 'Tony' in Mia Hansen-Løve’s BERGMAN ISLAND.
Courtesy of IFC Films
Vicky Krieps as ‘Chris’ and Tim Roth as 'Tony' in Mia Hansen-Løve’s BERGMAN ISLAND.

When I first came across French director Mia Hansen-Løve, I was struck by her beautifully uncomplicated filmmaking. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of flash, but it’s so refreshing when you see someone who just knows how to tell her story.

But uncomplicated filmmaking doesn’t mean simple, and certainly not simplistic. It also doesn’t mean an uncomplicated story. Hansen-Løve’s new movie, Bergman Island, covers a lot of emotional and artistic ground, following a romantic couple who are, themselves, filmmakers, and who have made a pilgrimage to the Swedish island where the great Ingmar Bergman lived and made many of his movies. One of them, played by Tim Roth, is already established and well regarded as a director. The other is younger and still finding her creative way, and this is much more her story—she’s played by Vicky Krieps, who was also so wonderful in Phantom Thread, and I’m starting to think maybe she should be cast in every movie. The woman, Chris, certainly looks to Roth for some guidance, but she also very much exists in his shadow, something we can assume is somewhat autobiographical, as Hansen-Løve was herself in a similar romantic relationship with the much older director Olivier Assayas.

The layers increase as Chris begins to tell the story of the new film she’s working on, about a fledgling filmmaker who reconnects with an old flame, and we enter into a movie within the movie, seeing this action play out, and knowing that at least some of it must reflect Chris’ own experience, and, we wonder, perhaps Hansen-Løve’s, too. And, of course, Ingmar Bergman looms over every part of what is happening—the couple even sleep in the bed from Scenes from a Marriage, which, let me tell you, is impossible to ignore.

As you suspect by now, Bergman Island is not easily or quickly described, and neither is Mia Hansen-Løve’s magic—she explores complex feelings and ideas with such an ease that you may not realize what you’re watching while you’re watching it, but it’s bound to stay with you for a long time after.

Bergman Island is available on Hulu

Fletcher Powell has worked at KMUW since 2009 as a producer, reporter, and host. He's been the host of All Things Considered since 2012 and KMUW's movie critic since 2016. Fletcher is a member of the Critics Choice Association.