Tuesday, October 12, 2021


Mia Hansen-Løve is one of our most attentive filmmakers, crafting narratives with the ease of lived experience and characters brimming with relational tensions and satisfactions. There’s something so finely tuned and yet so relaxed in her framing and her generosity for performers. And she brings deceptively simple, tender ways to capture moments of interpersonal shifts so charged with the electricity of human connection that one can practically feel the emotion tingling on the back of the neck. It’s beautiful. Take her 2012 feature Goodbye, First Love, one of the most achingly earnest explorations of young love in all its sensual dimensions and inevitable heartbreaks. She films these ordinary entanglements with all the freshness and novelty the characters would feel, and with the openness and perspective to see how fleeting are the moments and yet how how long-lasting the impact.

With her latest, Bergman Island, she makes an ode to cinephiles and filmmaking in the most loving way, telling stories within stories. She follows a couple (Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth), both screenwriters, as they book a writing retreat on Fårö, the Swedish island where the great Ingmar Bergman lived and worked. He’s the auteur behind such classic philosophical and psychological classics as The Seventh Seal, with its knight playing chess with death amidst the plague, and Persona, in which two women by the seaside slowly seem to start sharing mental states. Bergman made films alive with religious and moral dimensions as they push at the austere edges of what cinema can do. He opens up space for close identification, and deep contemplation. That they’re also often full of life—funny, idiosyncratic, playful, personable, and profound—is something those who know him only by reputation sometimes miss. His films often find people in moments of emotional extremities, contemplating endings of one kind (divorce, retirement) or another (disease, despair, death). How fun, then, that Hansen-Løve has given us a movie that’s all beginnings, with a central character struggling with how to end her latest story.

It’s ultimately not just a tip of the hat to one of cinema’s grand old masters, or a winking parade of references for cinephiles to smile and nod and check the box. It’s an encouraging and earnest grappling with his themes in the style and tone of another’s. Sure, Hansen-Løve starts her film on the level of a lark, with the couple settling into a house and discussing their location’s importance, taking in a screening, going on tours. But this isn’t just spot-the-allusion comedy; it’s a genuine character piece, with a couple of writers talking honestly about their work, their inspirations, their ideas, and the ways in which their relationship and their surroundings affect them. But then the movie reveals its fullest form when Krieps asks Roth for advice on her screenplay. She has a great start, but can’t figure out where to go from there. And so she tells him her outline so far. And from there, the movie becomes that movie, with her narrating. And it’s even better than the one we’ve been watching! It stars Mia Wasikowska as a young woman traveling to Bergman Island for a friend’s wedding, an event at which she’ll be reunited, for the first time in a long time, with her first love (Anders Danielsen Lie). There’s fine-tuned restrained melodrama here, as the couple, both with relationships back home, cautiously approach a revival of past feelings. The movie crackles with romantic tension as both actors embody their past experiences and potential future coming together. The heartfelt push-pull of this romantic suspense transcends feeling constrained by its movie-within-a-movie nature; it has the swooning fullness and compelling dilemma of the best films.

Hansen-Løve frames the act of storytelling as something of a magic trick, with all the hard labor of synthesizing inspirations and experiences and locations in a way that somehow adds up to us feeling and thinking and dreaming with fictional people. This is part of what makes the film so charming. And her ease with actors gives it the extra dazzling layer. This is no mere academic exercise or referential reverence for closed-off worlds of cinephilic knowledge. (Although it’s not not that in some ways. If this film encourages people to become Bergman heads, more power to it.) It’s alive with the stuff of art, with a knowledge that artists are people—complicated, difficult, full of personal eccentricities. And that not only informs their work, but is their work. Here we see the act of creation and the creation itself, sitting comfortably together. Knowing the making doesn’t diminish the full feelings it can generate. And knowing the maker doesn’t prevent us from getting lost in it. So it is with these fictional filmmakers; so it is with Bergman. In this film, so light and so lovely, we are asked to confront the beginnings of things, and in the end, it casually asks us to decide what makes for an ending that we will find fulfilling. As Margaret Atwood once reminded us, “So much for endings. Beginnings are always more fun. True connoisseurs, however, are known to favor the stretch in between, since it's the hardest to do anything with.”

No comments:

Post a Comment