Director: Ingmar Bergman
Cast: Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin
Plot: After living a life marked by coldness, an aging professor is forced to confront the emptiness of his existence.
Awards: Won Golden Bear and FIPRESCI Prize (Berlin). Won Pasinetti Award (Venice). Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Original Screenplay.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
"When you were little you believed in Santa Claus, now you believe in God."
I think Ingmar Bergman was one of the greatest filmmakers of the medium, but he made films that didn't resonate with me as much as others would claim to attest. The Seventh Seal (1957) was excellent, but not something I would be in a hurry to see again. Autumn Sonata (1978), the chamber drama starring Ingrid Bergman was incisive and emotional, but lacking in something that would have made it a truly memorable film.
Believe it or not, Wild Strawberries is the third film of Ingmar Bergman that I've seen – I still have so many more to catch up, perhaps it is a blessing for me to discover maybe a genuine masterpiece or two in the near future.
Starring whom many consider the 'father' of Swedish cinema, Victor Sjöström, in the lead role as Dr. Isak Borg, an aging professor who makes a road trip to receive an honourary degree, Wild Strawberries explores themes of loneliness and the fear of death in a ruminative drama that is semi-structured, as free as the mind would absolve all thoughts, but never empty in its portrayal of honest emotions.
In an early sequence, Bergman subjects Sjöström's character to a near-silent nightmare – a horse carriage carrying a coffin, at once a tribute to the latter's silent masterwork The Phantom Carriage (1921), and a foreshadowing of impending death, shot in high contrast black-and-white.
Living a life of coldness and distancing himself from any forms of relationship, Dr. Borg's road trip together with his daughter-in-law, is marked by still vivid memories of his childhood. A series of dreams, some nightmares, function as flashbacks to a distant past. He recalls a lost love, remembers his siblings and parents.
The dreamlike sequences act as counterpoints of guilt and regret, of having lived a life that would soon come to pass. It is often said that your life flashes by at the moment of your death, but Bergman despite being an eternal pessimist of cinema, harbours hopes for that moment to be one of peace, and of calm.
Sjöström's great mournful performance is a treasure, earning him a FIPRESCI award at the Berlin International Film Festival, where Wild Strawberries won the Golden Bear. While the film may not have come across to me as utterly fascinating, I think any list of world cinema would be incomplete without what has been widely regarded as one of Bergman's very best.
Verdict: A ruminative drama on the fear of death and loneliness, matched by a great performance by Victor Sjöström.
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