Blurring the line between fiction and autobiography, Mia Hansen-Løve’s new film Bergman Island sees the French author grapple with the creative process in a playful and personal way. A film about cinema that bears explicit enough allusions to Ingmar Bergman to function as its own primer on the Swedish master, it follows filmmaking couple Chris (Vicky Kreips) and Tony (Tim Roth) as they descend on Fårö, the titular Swedish island where Bergman lived and worked. It’s a place that has posthumously become something of a theme park for film buffs and Chris and Tony arrive to take part in a summer residency program that will allow them to work on their respective new projects while enjoying themselves. imbuing with all the Bergman inspiration they can. Somewhat ominously, however, their lodging is also where Bergman shot Scenes from a Marriage, “the movie that got millions divorced,” as their cheerful guide jokingly puts it – a comment Hansen -Løve uses to sow the idea that Chris and Tony’s seemingly idyllic relationship might be close to a dead end.
The first half of the film unveils this imperceptible flaw at first glance, focusing on all the micro ways it’s covered in offhand jokes or comments or the kind of sweet affection that replaces true passion in relationships that end up being maintained. together by children. We realize early on that Tony and Chris have a daughter together. She stays with her grandparents and her absence prevents them from ignoring the power imbalance in their relationship. Tony, who is older, more famous and successful, and the ease with which he is able to work seems to reinforce Chris’s insecurities about his talents. It doesn’t help that when she confesses how tortuous she finds the writing, he tells her “it’s not necessary” and later advises her to “do something else” if it doesn’t make her happy. While that’s intentional — and Roth’s amiable performance saves Tony from becoming another smug portrayal of toxic masculinity — it doesn’t really help. Later, convivial discussions of the prolific Bergman having nine children with six different women allude to an underlying resentment that Chris feels about the space that male artists regularly have to create substantial work: historically, one does not didn’t expect them to raise the children they father or strive for the relationships they crave, so of course they can do more.
Although it is tempting to draw parallels here with Hansen-Løve’s own life – she was in a relationship with Personal Shopper director Oliver Assayas for many years and had a child with him – the film is more a personal exploration of his own creative process. From the start of her career she has never shied away from refracting her own experiences through her art (see Goodbye First Love or Eden), but in the second half of Bergman Island she takes a snarky meta approach in dramatizing what we know of Chris and Tony’s relationship. as a movie within a movie, one revolving around a director (played by Mia Wasikowski) reconnecting with her ex-boyfriend (Anders Danielsen’s worst lying person in the world) as they attend D’s wedding. mutual friends in Fårö. Hansen-Løve presents this as the storyline idea Chris is working on and, as she tells Tony, it unfolds in the same elegantly simple, naturalistic style she uses for Chris and Tony’s story, a choice creative that subtly reflects the natural one reality flows into another. It’s an intriguing approach, not least because the contours of what’s ‘real’ and what’s ‘fiction’ become more ambiguous as the film progresses, something helped by the marvelous and inscrutable performance of Krieps and Hansen-Løve’s sly way of asking us to question the difference between authenticity and veracity in art.
If ambiguity runs through Bergman Island, its mysteries are practically laid out in bold 72 points from Earwig, the last born of another singular French author, Lucile Hadzihalilovic. Like Hadzihalilovic’s previous film, 2016’s Evolution, it’s an abstract horror film that resists easy interpretation, operating as it does on the strength of its beautifully crafted imagery and a kind of hallucinatory dream logic that seems collapsing time as events turn back on themselves and we oscillate between the points of view of two characters linked by a violent event.
The first is Albert (Paul Hilton), a veteran living in an amber vision of post-war Europe where he cares for Mia (Romane Hemelaers), a little girl whose mouth is fitted with a device. retainer holding in place a set of frozen prostheses made from his own slime. The second is a bartender called Celeste (Romola Garai) whose intervention in an altercation between Albert and a mysterious stranger from her past leaves her horribly scarred and somehow psychically connected to him in a way that’s hard to parse but involves a painting of a creepy orphanage. who figured prominently in their respective lives.
While expressionist imagery blends the two scenarios, the meaning can remain woefully out of reach (the film is based on an experimental novel by British sculptor Brian Catling and, by all accounts, is even more abstruse as a film) , but there’s also something horribly compelling about Hadzihalilovic’s quietly apocalyptic invocation of the past. David Lynch and Nicolas Roeg are obvious points of reference, not as inspiration – although you can draw cursory comparisons to Lynch’s Eraserhead and Lost Highway, and Roeg’s Don’t Look Know – but more in the the film’s commitment to marching to the beat of its own drumming.
Bergman Island is in selective version; Earwig is on selective release from June 10