Nearly three years after she began filming it, Mia Hansen-Løve’s seventh film, Bergman Island, finally arrives in Cannes to mark the Parisian director’s Competition debut. Filmed on location in Sweden, and starring Vicky Krieps and Tim Roth, it takes place on the island of Fårö, where the Swedish auteur Ingmar Bergman lived and worked until his death in 2007. Surprisingly, it’s been a while since Hansen-Løve was on the Croisette, having appeared in Directors’ Fortnight with her first feature All is Forgiven (2007) and Un Certain Regard with 2009’s Father of My Children. “I feel very privileged to be back,” she says.
DEADLINE: What’s Bergman Island about?
MIA HANSEN-LØVE: It’s about a couple of filmmakers who travel to Fårö, the island where Bergman lived in the 20 last years of his life. They’re going to stay all summer while they each write their scripts. So, it’s about them, and it’s about the summer they’re going to spend on this island.
DEADLINE: How did the idea come to you?
HANSEN-LØVE: I think the first thing, for me, was the desire to write a film about a couple of filmmakers and then, through the portrait of them, to do a film about creation and about inspiration, and how it works for a couple who both write. That was the first impulse for this film, but what really gave it life was the idea that came later on: to set the film on the island of Fårö.
DEADLINE: Why was Fårö so important?
HANSEN-LØVE: Fårö is kind of a mythic place for a lot of directors, and not only fans of Bergman—few directors have a connection to a place that’s as strong as Bergman’s with Fårö. Fårö has been part of my imagination for a long, long time, but then, maybe 10 years ago, I heard about a foundation that had been created after Bergman’s death, on the island, where the houses that had belonged to him were being made available as places where you could go as an artist— whatever your field is—in order to work. And, as I said, Fårö was already sort of a fantasy for me. And when I heard of this place, I immediately felt the desire not only to go there and write there but mostly to set the story I had in mind there.
DEADLINE: Is Bergman much of an influence for you?
HANSEN-LØVE: I wouldn’t say he’s an influence, but I’m a great admirer. I admire immensely his work, and his films matter to me a lot, and they have been companions for me since I ever started making films. Some of his films I keep watching and watching again, and I never get tired of them. But it’s not only about the films, it’s about his biography: his life and his way of working. It’s the whole thing that fascinates me about Bergman.
But it doesn’t mean that his films have an influence on my films. What I mean is, there are a lot of directors who I admire, and I never try to imitate them in any way or put references of their films in my films. Even in Bergman Island. I know it might sound paradoxical, but even though there is a lot about Bergman in my film—obviously—I don’t think my film tries to be in any way a film that you could say is a heritor of Bergman’s style or way of writing.
DEADLINE: The set-up for the film suggests a blurring of fact and fiction, which seems to be a very common theme of your films…
HANSEN-LØVE: Yes. I think I have to confess that fascinates me: the way when you make a very personal film, at some point you can experience some kind of vertigo, where the lines between reality and fiction—but also between past and present, what is visible and what is invisible—have a tendency to vanish.
I realized, after writing a couple of films, that part of the pleasure that I have in making films part of why it’s my vocation—has to do with this confusion. And I think what’s new about this film, compared to my previous films, is that in this case I try to deal with that directly, because it’s a film about directors. So, I really tried to confront that and find out how inspiration works for me, and why, and the meaning it has in my life.
DEADLINE: Why did you make it in English?
HANSEN-LØVE: I think the main reason—or I would say necessity—for me to do it in English has to do with the fact that the film is so personal. I mean, all my films are personal, but it’s the first film where I deal with a character who actually does the same thing in life as I do. And directing this film in English, with English-speaking actors, was a way for me to turn myself into fiction, to not be locked into something that would seem almost like documentary. I wanted this film to be total fiction, so I couldn’t see myself making this film with a couple of French directors because it would have sounded almost obscene, too close to me somehow. So, to me, English was the door to fiction.
DEADLINE: How did you choose your cast?
HANSEN-LØVE: Vicky Krieps I had seen in Phantom Thread. That’s the only film where I had seen her, but she impressed me so much. I thought she was really extraordinary in that film. But it wasn’t only that—in order to play a director, you need to have certain qualities that I don’t think all actors, even great actors, have. It’s quite special, I think. You need a certain authority, you need to be credible as somebody who has a certain intellectual life, somehow. So, first of all, I just wanted to film her because I thought she was incredibly luminous and had this rare, very rare, strong presence, but also, I could see her as a director. I could believe in that.
DEADLINE: And Tim Roth?
HANSEN-LØVE: Tim arrived later on. At first, I could only think of an American actor for that part. We shot over two years, so for the first year Tim wasn’t part of the cast. We didn’t know who was going to be in that part, which was a bit awkward, but also interesting. And while I was waiting to shoot the second part of the film, I thought of Tim. I had seen him in many films of course, but to me he will always be the actor in Alan Clarke’s film Made in Britain. I was interested in his fragility, which sounds surprising. But, to me, there is something about that in his presence. Although he plays a lot of tough guys in very masculine types of films, I could see something else in him that was a little bit opposite to that.
DEADLINE: Why did Bergman Island take two years to film?
HANSEN-LØVE: Well, we were supposed to shoot the whole film in 2018, with Greta Gerwig, and very shortly before we shot she had to drop out, because she was going to direct Little Women. It happened really quickly, and we were already there with my team, so we decided to shoot a part of the film that we could film without her, in order not to lose the other actors. But then I needed extra time to rethink the film without her, so that’s why we had to cut the shoot into two parts. It actually turned out to be a very happy experience, because I enjoyed being in Fårö so much that I was quite happy to be able to go back there the next year.
DEADLINE: Your filmmaking has been described as a cinema of freedom. Would you agree?
HANSEN-LØVE: My filmmaking? Well, I don’t know exactly what they meant, but I take that as a compliment.
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