‘Bergman Island’ Is Lovely to Behold … and That’s About It

A surface-level examination of the great Swedish director can't carry a whole film

Many years ago, my Dad took me on a family trip to Puerta Vallarta, which I was informed was “John Huston’s island.”

In fact, once we arrived, I was given a map showing me where I could a find a museum dedicated to the legendary director. The map took me to the dilapidated corner of an outdoor eatery, where the “museum” consisted of a framed picture of Huston and a weathered poster of his “Wise Blood.”

So much for the John Huston Museum.

On other hand, there’s Faro Island, which was the home and frequent filming location of the late, magnificent director Ingmar Bergman. Writer/director Mia Hanson-Love’s “Bergman Island” depicts a filmmaker (Tim Roth) and his wife (Vicky Krieps) vacationing to the gorgeous location, where they tour the sites and develop their ideas. In every instance, this stodgy drama made me want to visit the island or watch a documentary but not this movie.

Bergman Island - Official Trailer | HD | IFC Films

There are shots of Roth standing on a beach, listening to a tour guide explain the historical significance to him and others of this particular Bergman site; watching Roth watch a tour guide is as stale as cinema gets.

It’s not the only instance where I craved to just go to the island, take the tour myself and not to have bother watching a movie about unhappy filmmakers who seem only somewhat interested in Bergman.

Hanson-Love’s film doesn’t dig nearly deep enough into Bergman’s work and legacy. Despite the guided tours, discussions about which Bergman film to watch and a clever nod to “Scenes from a Marriage,” the film’s engagement with the filmmaker is surface level.

When we learn that Roth’s filmmaker character makes schlocky horror films, it further undermines the couple’s presence on the island (it’s hard to believe that a Eli Roth-type filmmaker would have interest in “Fanny and Alexander.”

I suppose the whole thing is semi-autobiographical or, at the very least, based on a trip the filmmaker once shared with her husband. Instead of feeling revelatory, the concept comes across a self-indulgence.

However, if I had to choose between watching Roth and Krieps mope around an island or sit through another Adam Sandler vacation video disguised as a “Grown Ups” sequel, I’d chose the former any day.

At the midpoint, it becomes a movie within a movie, as we witness a new narrative, now featuring Mia Wasakowska, also taking place on Bergman Island. Wasakowska has appeared in movies I like but has never given a performance I liked, let alone remembered.

She offers the same pleasantly bland turn here and the new sequence does little to enhance the film overall. It goes without saying neither plotlines approach the brilliance of Bergman. Only the visuals are splendid. If only a ticket to “Bergman Island” came with a one way ticket to Faro.

Bergman Unpublished: Fårö

I love a travelogs – whether Wenders’ immersive “Lisbon Story” or Bertolucci’s “The Sheltering Sky,” to name just a few, the filmmaker must decide whether to simply capture the taste of the atmosphere or build a narrative on top of a vacation video.

“Bergman Island” is so lovely to look it, it almost gets away with being so very little about a man whose stature in cinema remains so very large.

Two Stars

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