• Mia Wasikowska and Anders Danielsen Lie, in 'Bergman Island' (Umbrella Films)Source: Umbrella Films
5 Mar 2022 - 12:18 PM  UPDATED 10 Mar 2022 - 12:18 PM

A couple of American filmmakers, Chris (Vicky Krieps) and Tony (Tim Roth) retreat to the mythical Fårö island for the Summer. In this wild, breathtaking landscape where Bergman lived and shot his most celebrated pieces, he is feted with a retrospective, and she hopes to find inspiration for an upcoming screenplay. Left to her own devices, Chris explores the island and contemplates the legacy of the mythologised Swedish auteur who is responsible for the island's tourism industry. Lines between reality and fiction progressively blur, and invite a mid-film segue to an imagined (remembered?) romance embodied by Chris' lead character/alter ego, played by Mia Wasikowska, and a former flame played by Norwegian man of the moment, Anders Danielsen Lie (The Worst Person In The World). 

The fact that the film centres on a married couple, both film directors, has invited surface comparisons to Hansen-Løve's own former relationship with ex-husband Olivier Assayas. But the reference seems no more, no less autobiographical than any of Hanson-Love's characters, given her penchant for drawing inspiration from moments of her own experiences across her filmography. 

SBS spoke to the writer/director on the eve of the film's Australian release. 

So, it's called Bergman Island. You shot it on Bergman Island. We've seen Fårö in various ways in Bergman's films, but what's your own connection to this mythical place?

I went to Fårö in 2014 because I had the idea of making this film, so in a way I can say I was inspired by the film even before going there. Fårö was, for me, an imaginary place, a mental place before becoming a real place. But when I went there with the idea of the film, I was a guest at the Bergman Week that year, and I used that as a way to discover the place in the summer. But the first time, I mean, I stayed only a few days. When I went there, I wasn't sure how it would be, once I would make the experience of The Real Place. And actually, it turned out that it was even more inspiring and magical for me than what I expected.

Also, thanks to the fact that I met a young man called Hampous, who was moderating the Q&A for my movies that were screened, and we immediately had the same connection and he was driving me around the island and it was like another way of discovering Fårö. He was a huge admirer of Bergman. So we had this connection, of course, due to both of our admiration for Bergman. There was something that also had to do with youth, with the present and it was to me, like the missing piece of the puzzle. I think being concert with Hampous was like giving, you know, the flame that started the whole story for me. And then the year after I went back and wrote. I wrote most of the scripts on the island. 

Across your work, you bring elements of your own life and mix them into your fictional movie world. What's That like for you, to cherry pick from aspects of your life, from other people's lives, to then make this other thing that fuses your memories and ideas together? 

It's just the way I write! As you say, it wasn't the first time that I was speaking things of my life. I don't feel like I'm taking things of my life. I feel like my experience of life nourishes deeply and intimately whatever I write. In this film, maybe it's more obvious than in my previous films because it's about a couple of directors, and I'm a director and I've been to Fårö etc. But I think all of my films are equally personal and they just take my experience of life as just more material that I use as a writer. It's the only way I know how to survive. I actually admit this film for me is probably the most Romanesque, I would say of my films. Yes, it uses elements, very factual elements of my life, like the fact that it's about a director to make a story at the end. But it's my only film where I really get freed from realism in one way because I move from fiction to reality. I create a story where you get lost in different layers of reality. And you could say it's the one that is the most autobiographical in one way, or it looks so, but on the other hand, you can also say that it's my most dreamlike film. 

It is rare to see a female filmmaker's creative process laid out so thoroughly. We really are walking through this deeply with Chris (Vicky Krieps), and seeing the writer/director's thought process, and from a woman's perspective. That shouldn't be noteworthy, but it is, given we see it so often, through the experience of men. It's just refreshing to set it up this way and just have us living in Chris's skin for a while. 

Well, I knew there had been a lot of films made on films and cinema, but my references of these films were more films about filmmaking: the shooting. And yes, you would always see male actors, of course, but all the films that I can think of, they represent more like the surface. That is very interesting, of course and I mean, maybe one day I also want to make a film that looks at these moments of the process of making. But I think most of these films that deal with cinema, they focus on that. I realised at some point that there was no films, or at least that I had seen, about the root of where it really comes from: the inspiration. Not the relationship with the producers, not the relationship with the actors, but really where on the deeper level, where you really get your inspiration from and how it works. And so I on the one hand, I just want to make a film about inspiration because I was inspired by this subject in and of itself. And on the other hand, I thought, Well, maybe no one has really made that film and especially not about a female director. 

Because you always have concerns when you stop writing a film; I basically always have this moment where I think it's a bad idea, but I should still go there because it's just the one thing that I want to do. But in this case, also, I thought, 'Well, it's actually maybe relevant because who has made a film about the writing? About the creative process for a woman?' I mean, if we look up, we're talking about cinema and what it is, and I think my film really tries to capture that. I could also say it's even more than the cinema. It's just about the creation in general. You know, how it works, how you get your inspirations, how you use your wounds, your suffering, and try to turn it into something that makes sense. And in that way, you get rid of them. You know this cathartic process is really what I'm trying to capture and give it the form of a film, which was a very challenging and stimulating process for me as a writer. 

When it comes to building the characters, how much inspiration do you draw from music, and even what they will wear?

I guess I do this very instinctively. It's not a rational process where I would know like a. Write down the ideas that I think would make the character, it's just it's organic, I guess. Music does play a very important role in the process of writing for me. I mean, in most of most of my films, when I write them, I already have some songs in mind. And I remember once Godard said about the titles of films that they are like signs indicating a direction. And to me, maybe that's the music. In the end, I use very little music compared to most films. Like, I don't know how to say this properly, but I mean, most films today, maybe 75 percent of the time they have music, you know? And in my films, music is much more in moments. It means that you pay more attention to them because they are surrounded by silence, actually. And I think it's thanks to the silence that surrounds these moments that the music is more meaningful, also because it's part of the scenes most of the time. I mean, the characters are dancing or listen to them, and they're a part of what happens to them. But when I write my stories, most of [the songs] are in my mind and they give me the direction of where I'm going. Sometimes they end up as just a symbol what I call the 'music of the film', but still the music helps me a lot with the feeling. 

And I have to confess, I 'SoundHounded' as I was watching, to find the song that Mia and Anders dance to at the wedding. I listen to it all the time now. 

Oh really?! [Laughs] That's great.

Anders gave me the idea to that song, actually. I was questioning him: What songs would make sense for a wedding in Sweden? What Swedish songs would people like? And he'd sent me some, and he had the idea of that song and I could connect with it strongly. 

I think my time with you is nearly up, but I just wanted to ask about the casting because it's multilayered here. For a film that plays with identities, I know it was a fractured process to making the film, with so many people. Could you elaborate a little on that?

Yes, you know, I shot it in two different years, so one year I shot with Mia, and Anders, and they're all part of the first year. They were always there and they were part of this film from the start. I was supposed to shoot with Greta Gerwig but she quit the film in order to direct our own film [Little Women]. That happened in 2018, and she offered me to shoot the next year, but if I was going to do that, there was the risk that I would lose Mia and Anders. And it was all when I was already on the island, when I was ready, and I was just waiting for them. I couldn't imagine not shooting with Mia and Anders. I was lucky that my producer took this huge risk of shooting only half of the film in order to save the presence of Mia and Anders on the film. So even though it was only half of the film, it set up the chance of having shot half of it with them. Seeing the characters become real and moving gave me so much energy, you know, so I never lost faith. But when I lost Greta, I immediately thought of Vicky because I had seen her in The Phantom Thread just a couple of months before. And I was a huge fan of that film and of her in it.

Bergman Island is now in limited release around Australia.

Watch Mia Wasikowska in 'Tracks' at SBS On Demand 

Watch Tim Roth in 'Tin Star' at SBS On Demand - 3 seasons now streaming