September 19, 2021

SHOWBUZZDAILY Toronto Film Festival Reviews: “Bergman Island,” “True Things” & “France”


BERGMAN ISLAND (IFC – Oct. 15):  Mia Hansen-Love’s Bergman Island asks to be poked and scrutinized in several ways.  It takes place on the island of Faro, where Ingmar Bergman filmed some of his most celebrated masterpieces and lived the last decades of his life, and which now hosts a thriving business of tours and exhibits for cinephile tourists.  We’re introduced to two of those visitors, a pair of filmmakers who are a long-time couple:  the middle-aged and very successful Tony (Tim Roth) and his younger and still-struggling partner Chris (Vicky Krieps).  Hansen-Love is no doubt aware that audiences who know her own life will see this and think of her long (and recently concluded) relationship with the older filmmaker Olivier Assayas.  To this commentary on film history and the roman a clef, she adds a structural twist, as Bergman Island begins to shift from the story of Tony and Chris to the movie Chris is trying to write, a romantic drama set on Faro about young filmmaker Amy (Mia Wasikowska) and her ex-boyfriend Joseph (Anders Danielsen Lie).  As the various layers of storytelling intersect and adjust in prominence, it becomes increasingly hard to tell what, if anything, is “reality.”  Some will find this fascinating and revelatory, while others will just be frustrated, as it isn’t clear whether the film is ultimately more than a narrative exercise.  Wherever one comes out, Bergman Island is certainly a lovely piece of work, with photography by Denis Lenoir that makes use of Faro’s harsh beauty, and contemplative performances by the quartet of leads.  With its film-centric consciousness and insistence on personal interpretation, this may be an example of the ultimate festival entry.

TRUE THINGS (no distrib):  Memorable performances by Ruth Wilson and Tom Burke lift what’s otherwise a fairly familiar story in Harry Wootliff’s film.  Kate (Wilson) leads a tired life in a welfare office when she meets a man only identified in the film as “Blond” (Tom Burke).  Blond is a dictionary definition of the bad boy, giving Kate the hottest sex of her life and otherwise treating her like garbage, nonchalantly taking her car for weeks at a time and contacting her only when he’s in the mood.  True Things asks whether Kate will find the strength to recognize how rotten Blond is and grow as she pushes past him.  The script by Wootliff and Molly Davies (based on a novel by Deborah Kay Davies) doesn’t have a lot to offer beyond the obvious, as Kate’s self-destructive relationship with Blond damages her career and her friendships and she’s unable to shake her addiction to him.  The actors make True Things worthwhile.  Burke is basically doing a variation of the terrible boyfriend he played in The Souvenir, and he’s expert at being damagingly irresistible.  Wilson makes Kate a fully-drawn individual, intelligent enough to understand what’s happening to her, but so besotted by the thrills of her time with Blond that she doesn’t care.  They give True Things what sheen it has.

FRANCE (Kino Lorber – Dec. 10):  A lengthy sort-of satire from Bruno Dumont, better known until now (and still) for his very serious festival circuit films like Humanite and Flanders.  The fact that the film’s narcissistic, perhaps sociopathic TV-journalist protagonist is named “France” (Lea Seydoux) is of course not a coincidence, and a sign of the subtlety of the media satire here.  This character type goes back at least to 1976’s Network, and Dumont doesn’t bring enough wit to make this version seem special.  Then in the latter portion of the film, Dumont orchestrates a sharp, melodramatic change of tone (admittedly via a dazzling scene of tragedy) that makes it unclear what he’s trying to say at all.  Seydoux gives the role her all for the full 133 minutes of the ride, and there are a few sharp moments along the way.  You may have to be French, though, to appreciate what this France is driving at.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."