You may need a PhD in Ingmar Bergman to understand every nuance of French writer and director Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Bergman Island.” Still, the writer’s branch of the Academy may have enough of the qualifications to embrace its charming story. Even with delectable performances from its cast ensemble, most notably Mia Wasikowska in her finest acting effort yet, the small independent film will undoubtedly face significant challenges during awards season. Distributor IFC Films will have to be very specific with voting groups to entice members to give the film its fair shake. Will they be successful in that quest? That remains to be determined.
“Bergman Island” tells the story of Tony and Chris, who retreat to the island that inspired the legendary director and writer Ingmar Bergman. There, they write screenplays for their upcoming films, but reality and fiction begin to blur as the weekend continues.
The Oscars love films about the movies, as seen with past winners like “Argo” and “Birdman.” So this will serve as the entryway for IFC to exploit to get butts in seats at screenings (if there are any screenings with COVID spiking). The Academy has nominated tiny films for original screenplay before, such as “Margin Call” by J.C. Chandor and “The Savages” by Tamara Jenkins. Still, those typically are Oscar nomination morning surprises. Unsure if that would be a mirrored trajectory, but it will need to be a topic of discussion as the season progresses to have any shot at the nom.
With a cast as talented as this, you’d think there would be a better chance at acting attention, but with the largest branch of the Academy weighing in on this race, it would need added assistance from key precursor groups. Australian actress Wasikowska has been an unrelenting and dynamic presence in Hollywood for over a decade. Getting her first piece of notoriety in the best picture nominated “The Kids Are All Right,” she’s proven to be a box office juggernaut (“Alice in Wonderland”) and a brilliant indie performer (“Stoker”). However, unafraid to bare her soul, supporting actress would be a far more interesting field if it included her astonishing execution.
Tim Roth, who hasn’t been nominated since “Rob Roy” over 25 years ago, has presented himself as an actor who is effortlessly good at his craft; it almost hurts him when brought up in an awards discussion. The rest of her co-stars, Vicky Krieps and Anders Danielsen Lie, are advantageous in their scenes and add to the color of the cast that the SAG Awards would be smart to consider.
For Hansen-Løve, she’s been a staple in the narrow, independent feature space, with past films such as “Things to Come” with Isabelle Huppert being one of her most notable. The base could expand significantly thanks to what she achieves on “Bergman Island,” and the writers may be lured to the seduction of dialogue and framing of key scenes. It’s an uphill battle that IFC is willing and should take with the sensation.
If nice guys finish last, it’s unclear where great auteur scribes and filmmakers rank on such a list. “Bergman Island” can begin that discussion accordingly.
“Bergman Island” is screening at the Telluride Film Festival and will open in theaters on Oct. 15.