Review: ‘Bergman Island’ reveals relationship realities

From observing how people meet to revealing how people hurt, moviemakers reach behind words and actions to discover why people feel. And, if the movies perpetuate simplistic notions of what it takes to live “happily ever after,” at least some cinema creators dare to investigate what really happens when people dare to love.

Sweden’s famed filmmaker Ingmar Bergman never hesitated to search for the pain that well-intentioned people can inflict on each other. From the complex sisters in “Cries and Whispers” to the disconnected mother and daughter in “Autumn Sonata” to the disappointed couple sharing their pain in “Scenes from a Marriage,” the director taught generations what people can learn when follies project on a screen. And if, off-screen, Bergman found himself challenged by temptations his characters tried to confront, the connection made his films more meaningful.

The lovely “Bergman Island” welcomes us to scenic settings where the director once lived, created, staged his dramas and reflected on his life. Beyond providing a compelling view into the filmmaker’s physical world, writer/director Mia Hanson-Love channels the Bergman commitment to truth as she examines the troubled relationship between two creative people who occasionally lose track of what they experience because they get caught up in what they feel.

At first, Tony and Chris seem like reasonable people, two filmmakers venturing into quiet spaces to complete screenplays that matter. Oh, they fuss, and complain, challenge and whine, but their bond feels sturdy enough to withstand any wind. Bergman loved to lure us into that sense of security about people we observed in his films. And, like Bergman, Hanson-Love slowly reveals the tensions these people ignore in the spirit of wanting to be happy. Soon, as their imaginations soar with what relationships can be – because we love movies with happy resolutions – the filmmakers identify their disappointments in day-to-day experience. And, as Bergman loved to examine, they start to see the cracks in the veneer they work so hard to polish.

With these fascinating people, Hanson-Love demonstrates respect for the nuance Bergman would have brought to such a story without simply making a movie he could have created. The filmmaker reaches beyond the suggestion often expressed by the late director’s characters to clearly articulate differences that threaten the bond these people share. And, like Bergman, Hanson-Love refuses to take sides in the couple’s squabbles. She also gives her actors the freedom to make their characters as authentic as words and gestures permit, letting her camera sit and watch and let the needed moments pass before moving on.

“Bergman Island” gives us a wonderful opportunity to remember a filmmaker who redefined how the camera can portray relationships. The film offers a fresh look at what relationships today can and should be, but may not always become.

“Bergman Island” runs 1 hour and 52 minutes, and is rated “R” for some sexual content, nudity and language. The film is showing in theaters.

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Film Summary: Bergman Island

Content: High. Writer/director Mia Hanson-Love channels the spirit of famed director Ingmar Bergman in a meaningful look at the complexities of relationships.

Entertainment: High. Like Bergman, Hanson-Love brings an authentic approach to her characters without resorting to unnecessary plot devices.

Message: Medium. What matters here is less what the movie says than how the experience feels.

Relevance: High. Any opportunity to learn from characters we experience on screen can help us understand what we face in real life.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. The movie can prompt conversation about how to focus on truth in relationships that matter. But this is not a film for the family.