There was no need for a follow-up to Fårö Document, a decade later, just as there was no reason not to make a follow-up to Fårö Document. And so it is that Ingmar Bergman tentatively returned to his native Sweden, around three years after declaring that he would never under any imaginable circumstances do so, to make the bluntly-named Fårö Document 1979, a follow-up report to what he found in 1969 on the island where he had settled down to live out the last fifty years of his life (the film ends by confidently proposing a return with Fårö Document 1989, which never came into existence; I really couldn't say why, as I can't imagine it was a financial concern).

The biggest change between the two films is one of focus: Fårö Document was at heart a politically activist work, describing the economic challenges facing the small and dwindling population of Fårö, an island in the Baltic Sea, pointing out how this immiseration was the result of governmental policies that weigh against rural communities, and offering a soberly-delivered jeremiad about the fate of Fårö if nothing changes. 1979 returns to find that, in fact, none of the world-historically terrible things Bergman warned of actually came to pass, and that the island was perhaps even doing slightly better than it had been in 1969, which takes some of the urgency out of the proceedings. Instead it feels like an ambling tour of Fårö life, built by Bergman and editor Sylvia Ingemarsson around the passage of the four seasons (the footage was shot over two years), rather than any clear relationship between different interview subjects or the things they talk about it.

This cuts both ways. On the one hand it means that Fårö Document 1979 has almost no concrete structure, and no sense of identi islanderty. It doesn't build, doesn't have momentum, doesn't form a unified vision. Add in a 104-minute running time, 47 minutes longer than the first Fårö Document, and it feels rather shaggy and lingering, going nowhere in particular and not rushing to get there. On the other hand, the footage radiates fascinated affection for the Fårö islanders, and all of those long, aimless moments don't feel like random asides in the act of watching them, but gripping portraits of human activity allowed to spill out as we stand back watching, mostly unseen.

This is the other big change between not just the two Fårö Documents, but between this film and just about everything Bergman had directed for two decades or more. Fårö Document 1979 is pretty light on the probing close-ups that had long since become the director's visual signature, favoring wide shots that ask us to look at people within the context of their immediate environment, not just the people themselves. If the first film is a movie primarily about learning from people's words, this is primarily about learning by observing. It is perhaps no accident that this is the first Bergman project in many years not to be shot by Sven Nykvist; that honor went to Arne Carlsson, who had served as Nykvist's assistant on the first movie, and floated around a couple later Bergman sets as still photographer (this was his first credit as cinematographer). And perhaps it has nothing to do with anything. Either way, the film has a very un-Bergman look, not just because of the wide shots, but also the bright colors and soft lighting.

It's unexpected, but not by any means a failure: the film backs off on the focused psychological inquiry of the earlier documentary to instead serve as a tribute to the human lives of the islanders. The best moments here are the ones that capture the most casual details of life: a whole community gathered around to thatch a roof a roof, an elderly man (most of the people on Fårö were elderly) methodically preparing and enjoying a fish dinner, with the camera peering over his shoulder inquisitively as he cooks but respectfully standing back when the time comes for him to eat. There's a lengthy sheep-shearing scene that echoes the sheep-slaughtering scene from the earlier film, while also easing back on its violence (later, a pig is slaughtered discreetly, at a distance, and without the anatomical curiosity of the first movie). It is a kinder film, nicer, more interested in letting life simply happen and grasping at it with the camera lens without ever trying to force moments of realisation or insight.

This mostly works for the film, turning it into what amounts to a lengthy hang-out with interesting people living in a beautiful place. It lacks the depth of Fårö Document, but so too does it lack the pushiness and the sense of calculation; that movie was a carefully-managed argument, this movie is a messy kaleidoscope, and there's something vivid and humane in watching the world slowly drift by over the course of a year, with the only rhythms dictating our attention being entirely organic.

Such a loose approach of course ends in as many moments of wandering emptiness as it does in moments of piercing humanity. The places where Fårö Document 1979 gets itself into the most trouble are generally the ones where it's most consciously functioning as a sequel. Bergman has gone to trouble of scrounging up several of the people he interviewed as restless teenagers back in 1969, finding out who they are now; this is interesting and not entirely productive. Some of the people who wanted to stay haven't, some have stayed who wanted to leave, but mostly the subjects have gone from bored teenagers to generically contented adults, which is pretty much what happens. And it takes a lot of time to get through them all. The best thing this does is to set up a contrast with the new crop of island teens, who seem much more anxious to stick around and make the place a thriving community again than the previous generation, but there's not enough depth of footage in either movie to achieve the sense of historical weight of the Up documentaries. A much better visit from an old friend comes when Bergman talks to Ingrid Ekman, for my money the runaway star of Fårö Document, to find the inevitable crawl of age has taken away some of her energy and vitality, and left her more ambivalent about the future than before, when she was too busy for morbid introspection. But even this feels like it has come out of a different film. And this is also true of the film's final sequence, which starts out like just one more trip to visit a local - hey, let's see what it's like on a fishing boat! Except it transforms into the kind of detailed economic analysis that was the backbone of the first movie, and has nothing at all to do with this one.

Still, griping aside, Fårö Document 1979 is a lovely, humane film; not a top-tier documentary, and it doesn't really suggest that Bergman had it in him to become a top-tier documentarian, but the footage is respectful of its subjects, dignifying them and celebrating them without ever turning them into lazy ideas about the rugged rural working class, or any such thing. Ultimately, this is a simple, earnest tribute to a place, and while it doesn't have the artistic heft of the director's best work, it's extremely pleasant and even heartwarming, in little tiny stretches.