Friday, September 24, 2021

A Meta-Contemplation on an Artist's Creative Process

Bergman Island (2021) - Hansen-Løve Bergman Island For the last decade, Mia Hansen-Løve, with a string of beautifully written and acted, melancholic films about life and passing of time, has emerged as one of the most highly-regarded directors working today.

Her delicate and subtle films, be it a coming of age tale in Goodbye First Love, about pursuing one's dreams and succumbing in Eden, or about taking life's curve balls in stride in Things to Come, there has always been plenty of evidences of a great writer/director cementing her own unique voice in film world, which is a still very much male-dominanted industry.

It is interesting then, that we see Hansen-Løve digging deeply into the subject that concerns a woman's artistic struggles in finding her own voice while being a longtime partner of someone who's more established and better known, taking a not so guised reference from her real life, for she was a long time partner of director and mentor, Olivier Assayas.

Even though Bergman Island is her first English language film with an international cast -- Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie -- the theme doesn't quite give enough distance from her real life. Sure, an older man who has a big influence on how a young woman develops and finds her own self has always been there in her films, most recently in Maya.

But her self-reflexiveness was not as out in the open as in Bergman Island. I'm not faulting this move and don't want to call it regressive, but a female director finding her own voice and out of her male partner's shadow in a place called Bergman Island seems quite an unusual choice for already established and well-regarded director. Perhaps that was her intention, though, to differentiate herself and reiterate that her working method is different, that her creative process is not like that of Assayas nor Bergman.

Bergman Island concerns a film director couple Tony (Roth) and Chris (Krieps) coming to Faros Island, where the famed Swedish director Ingmar Bergman made a bulk of his films and had a house there, to work on their new projects. Many writers, filmmakers and architects have been flocking around there to get inspirations from where the maestro lived and worked.

Tony is a world-renowned filmmaker and is always surrounded by adoring fans. It's no different, even on the remote island. He gets invited to the soirées thrown by the Bergman Society, film screenings, and frequently ta;ls on the phone with his producers about his latest project. While Tony works on his new script with ease in the main house, Chris sets up shop in the mill across the yard from him to work on her own script.

She's a little taken aback by the fact that Bergman was not a nice man to be around and had 11 children from nine wives. She also doesn't like the idea that him being a bad father was somehow a prerequisite for him to be a prolific genius. "You think he was changing diapers while being a genius?," a Bergman fan quips. It also bothers her that the beauty of the island -- the sun-kissed coastline, deep blue sea, idealic pastures -- produced a dark, disturbing and pessimistic view of life in many of his films.

After frolicking around the island, she concocts a script about a young woman named Amy, coming to the island for her friend's wedding and confronts her first love, Joseph, again. They have only three days together on the island.

Chris starts telling the story in the hopes of getting some guidance from Tony. Tony attentively listens. And now we are thrown into a unrequited love story of two lovers (Wasikowska and Lie) who were too young to realize what they had and now it's too late to reconnect, in film-within-a-film. Amy, a filmmaker from New York, can't forget Joseph, her first love, even though they both grew up and have moved on with their lives.

The story is slight and without an end. But their love and attraction are palpable. For a long period of time, we only see the couple's story unfolding, as they rekindle their love, then realize they can't be together. From time to time, that story is interrupted by Chris checking on Tony, to see if he is paying attention to her story/film.

There are many funny bits referring to Bergman: like Scenes from a Marriage causing millions of divorces, a Bergman Safari tour, a deadpan projectionist at the Bergman's private theater calling out that he doesn't have a print of Saraband, so Tony and Chris was subjected to watching Cries and Whispers.

The film's meta-ness, the story of Amy and Joseph slowly melding into Chris's own life, suggests that the film Bergman Island is itself is a way of showcasing a filmmaker (Hansen-Løve)'s creative process. And it can come across a little too precious at times. The film is certainly not the usual Hansen-Løve's ultra-wise life observations.

All the ingredients to make a great Hansen-Løve film are here: great assemblage of talented, intriguing actors, great location, self-reflexive storytelling, young love. But it doesn't quite gel together.

We all process our surroundings differently and express ourselves in unique ways. Contrasting oneself to others might be one way. Perhaps Bergman Island is Hansen-Løve's most personal film to date, showing her incongruities and subtle ways towards filmmaking.