Intimate Connections to Character and Location with ‘Bergman Island’ Writer-Director Mia Hansen-Løve
By Sadie Dean • October 13, 2021
Script's Editor Sadie Dean interviews 'Bergman Island' writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve about how she came upon the idea for this story, casting the pivotal role of Chris and the artistic liberties she took embracing Fårö as an instrumental location and artistic life source for her characters.
A filmmaking couple living in America, 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, they hope to find inspiration for their upcoming films. As days spent separately pass by, the fascination for the island operates on Chris and souvenirs of her first love resurface. Lines between reality and fiction will then progressively blur and tear our couple even more apart.
Bergman Island writer-director Mia Hansen-Løve effortlessly transcends reality and fiction with life imitating art and vice-versa. You can easily get lost in the beauty and history of this infamous island, once inhabited by auteur filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, thanks to Mia's handling of character development and world-building.
I had the distinct pleasure of speaking with Mia Hansen-Løve about how she came upon the idea for this story, casting the pivotal role of Chris and the artistic liberties she took embracing Fårö as an instrumental location and artistic life source for her characters.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: What sparked the idea for this particular story?
Mia Hansen-Løve: I think the idea of making a film about a couple of filmmakers, that would be a film about the creative process, about inspiration, how it works, but also be a portrait of the couple and their relationship. That idea was with me for a long time before it turned out to be a film that would be set on Fårö, I think the first thing for me was really, that idea of making a film on creation in a more frontal way because I think vocation is there in all of my previous films, they all did deal with that one way or another. But that one was going to be more frontal because it was going to be about a female director like me, so that that means it was going to be very direct.
It took me some time to let this idea of making the trip to Fårö and setting the film there. This place was already a source of fantasy for me of course because of Bergman and his autobiography Laterna Magica, and the films that he had shot there. But at some point, the idea of the couple and the placement and place have always been a starting point for me. The reason why I make films is always also to film places. But what was special with Fårö, the place of Bergman's Island, it's so much related to him and I do see him in his Island somehow. But on the other hand, I found my way to the island. I made my own experience of the island and I think the film is the result of that as well. It's not only a film about the way Bergman's ghost is present on the island, it's also a film about my own relationship to that island, because I'm also extremely sensitive to the spirit and the atmosphere and landscapes of Fårö.
Sadie: It’s a character within itself, this location. Being a creative and filmmaker, how much of yourself were you putting into these two characters?
Mia: When I went to the island for the first time, I think it was in 2014. I think I wrote the film there in 2016. And then I went back in ‘17 to pre-prepare and then I was there in 2018 and ‘19, two different summers for shooting. I did spend a lot of time there. And I wrote the film there. In my experience of writing the film, I was experimenting at the same time - it's so bizarre, but simulating to be actually at the place where the story takes place, and not knowing exactly where you're going. And as you make the experience of writing, and the film is about the experience of writing, it's so disturbing, [laughs] it's actually the first time that I decided to get lost the way I did. Usually, when you write a film, you don't want to get lost you, want to try to find the shortest way to get there. But I'm still I'm very anxious. And I'm just like, Chris, I mean, I'm very anxious when I write, and I don't feel self-confident at all. But strangely enough, when I wrote this film, I actually enjoyed getting lost, and not knowing where I was going.
But yes, there is a lot of my life and my own way of dealing with what it means to be a woman and an artist and have a family - a lot that is inspired by my own life. But that doesn't mean it is literal. People say about my films that they are autobiographical, I think they think it's literal, but it's not necessarily. For instance, I never was there with the father of my child, he never went there. When I wrote that film, I was alone on the island. So, I had a very different experience from the one you see in the film, so you see, it is not autobiographical. [laughs] And so there is a confusion and the film actually deals with that confusion between reality and fiction.
Sadie: It's a nice balancing act that you do. And it humanizes your characters. What was the casting process like?
Mia: It's a long story. Greta Gerwig was involved in the film, she was involved from the start. I had known her since Eden and we have been talking a lot about the project. And so two months before we shot in 2018 Greta was supposed to play Chris. But then she was set to direct Little Women, so she had to leave the project. I had always imagined Greta in the part. I had to rethink it over very quickly. But I had seen Vicky Krieps in Phantom Thread a couple of months before and I adore her in the film. I didn't know anything about her, but I really wanted to work with her one day, but I didn't think it would be that early. Once it was clear that Greta was not going to make the movie anymore, I had to decide whether I just don't do the film, but it was impossible for me to not make that film, it was so important to me.
It took me I think 24 hours to think of Vicky as the only other obvious choice, although she's very, very different from Greta, I think she brought the character closer to me in a way because Vicky is more European and she has this kind of melancholy that maybe is closer to me. But there is something about her - she has a grace and vulnerability, a fragility - I think that makes her presence moving to me. But on the other hand, she also has authority, she has a self-confidence that makes her credible to me, as a filmmaker. I can see her as a director, just as I could see Greta as a director, I could see that. And so, it's the reason why I offered the part to Vicky, not only because I thought she was so great in a film, but it’s also more than that. It’s because there was a match between her and the character and me and I could see myself in her in many ways.
And Mia Wasikowska is a totally other story. She was there from the start. I was a fan of hers, but I could never imagine her becoming the director, for instance, because Mia has some kind of innocence and to me, she's connected really to youth and she's almost like this eternal teenager, the way I see her. And that's why I could only see her in that part.
Sadie: It worked out, but I could also see Greta in that role.
Mia: Vicky became like an alter ego and I couldn't imagine anybody else in that part really, truly became like another me. [laughs]
Sadie: General advice for screenwriters or multi-hyphenates like yourself on using a location essentially as a character in a story - what are maybe some creative elements that they should embrace from a location like this and making it a character when writing the story?
Mia: I'm very bad at advising because [laughs] I have my own way of working but I can never consider that it's something I could teach you know, and say people should do the same, it's just my way of doing things. But what I can say about my way of working is that I do spend a lot of time on the locations that I'm going to film. When I'm filming at a place it feels like it's almost like a home, I usually spend so much time there that I know the place by heart. I'm not saying you have to know and explain it by heart, and you can't when you have a lot of locations in the film you cannot know each by heart, it's impossible. But when you have important locations in the film, I do think it's important to really know them intimately and physically. I spent so much time walking around the places I would film and walking around the island to find the places I wanted to film. I think I knew the island so well when I ended up filming it that I knew exactly where to put my camera. I don't think knowing which shots to do, how to film a scene is really a technical matter or it's not about how smart you are or how many films you've seen, but I do think it's about the intimacy you have to a place and I really feel that when I intimately know a place. When I am deeply connected to a place, it becomes very spontaneous for me to know how to film it and to find the right look, the right point of view.
Sadie: I think that's great advice, especially for writers to kind of envelop themselves in that location to really understand it more, especially for character development and how they navigate their world. Well, Mia thank you so much and congratulations on the film!
Bergman Island opens in select Theaters on October 15 and is available On Demand on October 22.