Wild Strawberries (1957)

“Recently I’ve had the weirdest dreams — as if I must tell myself something I won’t listen to when I’m awake.”

Synopsis:
An elderly professor (Victor Sjostrom) travelling to an awards ceremony reflects upon the joys and pains of his past, attempting to understand why he is seen by many as cold and unforgiving.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary accurately labels this enduring “journey of self-knowledge” by master writer/director Ingmar Bergman as “cinematic storytelling at its best” — a beloved film which “defies criticism” given how great its “impact [has] been on ‘art’-film lovers, film students, and filmmakers.” He notes that watching it is akin to being “with Scrooge on a look at Christmas Past“, as the film’s protagonist (Victor Sjostrom, giving a “captivating performance” as “cold” professor Isak Borg) slowly “begins to display traces of humanity and compassion”. Indeed, it’s impossible not to be moved by Borg’s haunting process of self-discovery, as he’s forced (through insistent dreams and visions) to acknowledge aspects of his personality that have caused him unspoken grief over the years.

Wild Strawberries is, in essence, an elaborate “flashback film”, yet with a strategic thematic twist, given that Borg is privy to life-altering scenes he could never have seen in real life. Indeed, Bergman daringly plays with the viewer’s notion of cinematic continuity and integrity in a way that audiences at the time found either frustrating or thrilling (Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, for instance, referred to the film as “so thoroughly mystifying that we wonder whether Mr. Bergman himself knew what he was trying to say”.) Peary, however, argues in retrospect that “rather than being as intimidating as later Bergman films, [Wild Strawberries] is simple enough on the surface for viewers to have the energy to dig for the inner meanings and complexities” — and it’s certainly the best film to introduce to budding film fanatics interested in exploring Bergman’s esteemed oeuvre.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Victor Sjostrom as Isak Borg
  • Ingrid Thulin as Marianne (Borg’s daughter-in-law)
  • The opening nightmare sequence
  • Gunnar Fischer’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as an undisputed foreign classic by a master director.

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(Listed in 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die)

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One Response to “Wild Strawberries (1957)”

  1. An absolute must! An essential!

    For a change, I’m giddy in agreement with Peary’s remarks about it; he gets it perfectly right. On the other hand, the quoted Crowther kind of comes off like an idiot. What formula movie in his mind was *he* watching?

    This may very well be the first Bergman film I saw, when I was a mere ff of 12. It was at that time I was cast as one of the children in a production of Lillian Hellman’s ‘Watch on the Rhine’, which was to be performed at Lafayette College in Pa. For the several years that I made the college my playground, I enjoyed Friday and Saturday nights there especially. On those nights, classic films were shown for free. One night, American films; the other night, foreign. That was how I really fell in love with what film can be. Many of the major directors at the time were represented by widely recognized titles. What an experience to see ‘Wild Strawberries’ when I was that impressionable!

    Over the years, I’ve seen it many times. It’s a movie I’ve not grown tired of revisiting. It may be only an hour and a half but is it packed! And the time just seems to fly.

    The film opens with this statement from the protagonist in narration: “In our relations with other people, we mainly discuss and evaluate their character and behavior. That is why I have withdrawn from nearly all so-called relations. This has made my old age rather lonely.”

    The film then goes on to be a riveting chronicle of character and behavior. Through that, the main character loses his loneliness.

    Bergman’s films, on the whole, are probably much-loved by people with a leaning toward depression. When I was a teen, I could relate in that way. However, though many might lump ‘WS’ in with the majority of Bergman’s dark films (and, in many ways, it *is* dark), I find that quality in the film easily trumped by an underlying optimism. Or, if not actual optimism, a willingness to break through darkness into light. It is largely a meditative film about willingness to explore the souls of others and willingness to understand – and, if necessary, to forgive.

    The film has not a single wrong note. Masterfully realized in each element, it is by turns sad and joyous. Not only is it among Bergman’s finest…it is also one of the most memorable films I’ve ever seen.

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