Near the end of his life, the legendary Ingmar Bergman granted documentarian Marie Nyreröd several interviews from his home on Faro Island. He lived there in a sort of self-imposed exile. Indeed, there was much in his life that he needed to do penance for. He abandoned one of his wives (he had five total) and children and was arrested for tax evasion in 1976, which caused him to leave Sweden and live in Germany for a time. But it’s not so much his guilt that returned him to isolation on Faro Island, as it was the fact that he had nowhere else to go. He stuck to a ridged, almost prison-like schedule and seemed to be merely passing the time.
“Bergman Island,” completed in 2006 and now available from the Criterion Collection, is a wonderful treat for the Bergman super fan. Bergman reveals much about his inspiration. He speaks in-depth of his personal life, citing specific moments in his films as being completely autobiographical. For the uninitiated, it may be less compelling. It’s not very well organized, and occasionally recalls Grandpa’s rambling stories at Christmas. You know there are important bits in there, but it’s hard not to get impatient waiting for him to get to the point. These moments are especially potent during scenes in which he is wandering around his house, showing Nyreröd his belongings.
Additionally, for a man with so much drama in his life, the documentary itself isn’t very dramatic. This is due, in part, to the uninspired editing, likely resulting from the fact that the documentary was condensed from three hour-long television episodes. But Nyreröd’s passiveness throughout the interviews is also to blame. She occasionally asks follow-up questions, but only to keep him talking. She spends a good deal of time giggling. It’s clear she’s a fan and is unwilling to ask anything difficult, for fear of seeming disrespectful. It feels like there is a missed opportunity in her reverence.
Regardless of its flaws, a cineaste will certainly be pleased with “Bergman Island” Despite what it could have been, it is still a comprehensive look into one of the most revered filmmakers of all time.