Professor Dr. Isak Borg (acclaimed Swedish film director Victor Sjostrom, The Phantom Carriage and He Who Gets Slapped) reviews the accomplishments and disappointments of his entire life while on route to receive an honorary degree.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Wild Strawberries (aka Smultronstället) marked Ingmar Bergman’s ascend into international prominence, and clearly established the structure and the themes that would dominate all of his subsequent films, culminating with his last theatrical release, the glorious Fanny and Alexander (1983).
Bergman is widely recognized as one of the most celebrated film directors in the world of art cinema. His persistent, insightful, and totally original films always deal with agonizing philosophical and ethical questions that reflect the anger, fears, disillusions, and hopes that we as humans are preoccupied with, regarding topics like life and death, guilt and redemption, our relationship with God, and our interaction with a seemly hostile world that surrounds us.
From the playful Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) and the allegorical The Seventh Seal (1957), to the psychologically penetrating Persona (1966), and the intensely morbid Cries and Whispers (1972), Bergman succeeded in presenting thought-provoking ideas that not only challenge our minds, but also our senses. While most directors are determined to create movies that could have mainstream appeal, Bergman stubbornly stood by his guns and insisted on telling stories that would stimulate our intellect, not our natural desire for escapism.
In Wild Strawberries, Bergman tackles (among other things) a favorite subject of his: human isolation. At first glance the film’s storyline (an old man travels by car to receive an honorary award) looks quite simple, but like all of his films, there is more than meets the eye. As the septuagenarian professor travels to his destination, the line between reality and illusion gets thinner, and suddenly –- through a series of startling flashbacks –- the elderly scholar is confronted with the disappointments and frustrations of his entire life, and perhaps an opportunity for acceptance and redemption. A simple journey of self-reexamination becomes an odyssey of great revelations about the meaning of life.
The film features a number of mystifying and completely stimulating sequences, as well as a superb performance by Sjostrom in the leading role. Puzzling and penetrating, the film manages to be intellectually demanding while retaining a warm and eloquent simplicity that his later work somehow lacks.
Director Bergman always liked to use a subtle but very interesting visual game of key lights and a beefy amount of shadows to emphasize certain ideas, and this film is no exception. These arresting visual compositions add panache to what remains mostly a surrealistic film full of bizarre and enthralling imagery. Pay careful attention to the nightmarish sequence in which the main character witnesses his own funeral — it’s an unforgettably ghoulish moment.
The cast includes some of Bergman’s regulars: Ingrid Thulin (The Silence), Bibi Andersson (Scenes from a Marriage), Gunnar Björnstrand (Through a Glass Darkly), and Max von Sydow (The Virgin Spring) as a gas station attendant.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Wild Strawberries represents Bergman at his very best; his complex and unnerving narrative and visual style has never been so effective and provocative as in this film. The film is also one of Bergman’s most optimistic and compassionate films, choosing to present a more uplifting view of life, with none of the pessimism and ambiguity that exemplify most of his subsequent films. For anyone that has not yet experienced the cinematic world of this incredible Swedish auteur, this is probably a nice place to start. B&W, 91 minutes, Not Rated.