“Bergman Island” takes place on what really was Bergman island, even if that’s not its actual name. Fårö is the Swedish island where Ingmar Bergman famously lived for many years. He also filmed some of his greatest works there: “Through a Glass Darkly,” “Persona,” “Hour of the Wolf,” “Shame,” “The Passion of Anna,” “Scenes From a Marriage.” Keep that last title in mind, and not just because of the recent HBO Max remake.
The Bergman connection makes Fårö one of the sacred sites of cinema, like Cinecittà, Monument Valley, or the corner of Hollywood and Vine. That sacred-site aspect is very much a part of writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve’s drama. It’s not the most important part of “Bergman Island” — that would be the relationship between Tony and Chris (Tim Roth, Vicky Krieps), a filmmaker couple who have come to the island as part of a fellowship residency — but it’s the most entertaining. Is there such a thing as an annual Bergman Safari bus tour around the island? There is here.
The way Hansen-Løve (”Things to Come”) weaves in Bergman, life and works both, makes her film a kind of shadow biopic. “Bergman Island” also functions as travelogue. Fårö wouldn’t be very inviting in January, Tony sourly notes, but this is August; and as seen here it’s a bit of Baltic paradise. Everything’s so clean and sunny, suffused with island light, it could be Martha’s Vineyard without the riff-raff.
Agreeable as it is to learn more about Bergman and take in the scenery, that’s incidental to Hansen-Løve’s concerns. “Bergman Island” is a low-key, small-scale scenes from a marriage. Or scenes from a relationship: Tony and Chris aren’t married, though they do have a young daughter. She’s staying with her maternal grandmother, which helps keep things emotionally uncluttered.
Among the virtues of “Bergman Island” is how uncluttered it is generally, as well as its consistent quietude and Hansen-Løve’s keenness of observation. How keen? It goes unmentioned that Chris is taller than Tony and notably younger. Yet you can feel how they matter.
“Bumpy” is the first word heard in the movie. A passenger jet is flying through the clouds, and an anxious Chris has her head in Tony’s lap. She does not like flying. Stalled on a screenplay, Chris is experiencing bumpiness on the ground as well.
She and Tony are staying on the estate where Bergman had his studio. “Don’t you think it’s too nice, too,” and she pauses.
He interrupts her: “Too what?”
“Beautiful. All this calm and perfection, I find it depressing.” She adds, “Writing here, how can you not feel like a loser?” It’s a strange thing for someone to say, but not for Chris. Krieps (”Phantom Thread,” “Old”) gives her an odd, slump-shouldered walk. Is it an acceptance of defeat or anticipation of it?
Roth, who can be such a kinetic actor, keeps Tony reined in. That’s as it should be, as “Bergman Island” increasingly becomes Chris’s movie. It’s hers twice over. She emerges as the more prominent and interesting character and — in Hansen-Løve’s one bit of bravura — we get to see enacted as a movie-within-a-movie the screenplay Chris is working on.
“Bergman Island” then becomes, at least for a while, someone else’s movie, belonging to Amy (Mia Wasikowska) and Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie). Their relationship — as guests at a wedding, no less, held on, yes, Fårö — becomes a gloss on Chris and Tony’s relationship.
This is an imaginative twist, no question, and Hansen-Løve has some understated fun with filmic intertextuality: Chris and Amy wear the same style of shoe; some actors play parts in both “movies”; stuff like that. But it does seem more elaboration, or even distraction, than anything else. Going to Fårö is an appealing proposition. Doing so twice, and on the same visit, rather diminishes that appeal.
Written and directed by Mia Hansen-Løve. Starring Vicky Krieps, Tim Roth, Mia Wasikowska, Anders Danielsen Lie. At Coolidge Corner. 113 minutes. R (sexual content, nudity, language). In English and Swedish, with subtitles.
Mark Feeney can be reached at email@example.com.