Perhaps it’s a way for Hansen-Løve to show the way artists pick from their own lives, or maybe it’s a way to muddy the meta waters even more. That ambiguity does not always work to the benefit of a film that always teeters on the brink of self-indulgence, mind you.
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Bergman Island is a heart-stoppingly poignant stunner all the same — one beating inside a body of work that has always been seasick with the bittersweet vertigo that comes from looking at the past through the smudged lens of memory and imagination.
This is an auto-auto-auto-fiction that throws out the occasional fun, cinephiliac in-joke, and teases the odd insight into creative blockage and romantic unfulfillment. But mostly, it serves to prove the old adage that a self-deprecating awareness that your movie has nothing going on in it is no substitute for having something going on in your movie.
Delicate, droll and imbued with a haunting, understated wistfulness, Bergman Island wears its layers so lightly it may take you a while to notice just how much it’s got going on.
It’s a film made with honesty, integrity and a certain grace, but it can’t quite overcome an earnestness that was never a problem in Hansen-Love’s best films, which carried their literary and cinematic inspirations lightly.
If Bergman Island is a roman à clef about Mia Hansen-Løve and Olivier Assayas, it’s an oblique one. If it’s a “Before” film, it’s one that embeds a crucial element of emotional exploration in the educated guesswork of the audience. If it’s a cinephile shell game made with disarmingly clever sincerity — and I would say that’s just what it is — it’s one that leaves you grateful to have paid a visit to this island.
The film never sacrifices its ambiguity as it brings various threads about ghosts, relationships, art, and gender to a head.
Although the story isn’t autobiographical, there’s a tang of lived experience here – of very personal feelings and important questions being channelled through these characters – that keeps its sunlit landscapes and island interactions ground with relatability.
A late narrative gambit made me worry that Hansen-Løve was pushing her conceit a little too far into the realm of the meta, but it pays off with thrilling clarity and elegance.