Wild Strawberries (1957) dir. by Ingmar Bergman
Starring Victor Sjostrom, Bibi Andersson and Ingrid Thulin
By Blair Stewart
One of Ingmar Bergman's early triumphs and near-universally praised, "Wild Strawberries" is a character study of an ailing Swedish doctor coming to terms with his spent life while cryptic imagery and memento mori assail him. Victor Sjostrom, the 'grandfather' of Swedish cinema, plays Dr. Isak Borg, accused by his daughter-in-law Marianne (the stunning, and I really do stress that folks, stunning Ingrid Thulin) of being a cold-hearted bastard and fathering one too while they drive to his Alma matter for an accolade.
As they travel a countryside littered with the flotsam of his past Isak is overwhelmed by regrets after stopping at the summer house of his youth a la Mr. Watanabe from "Ikiru" or Ebenezer Scrooge from "A Chritsmas Charol". Here we see the origin of the Doctor's withered soul as his beloved cousin Sara (who's future doppelganger he meets on the road as she stirs up painful embers, both played by Andersson) chooses his johnny-on-the-spot brother for companionship.
Later on the Hindenberg of Isak's own marriage is reflected in a bickering, scenery-chewing couple stuck in an infinite loop of shrillness and in his son's own personal failures. Two boys; one an atheist, the other god-fearing vie for the present-day Sara's affection as Bergman dawdles around with surrealist landscapes and sour flashbacks that Leonard Cohen would have sighed about.
A vital work for art-house cinema and Swedish film history, and yet one that never engaged me. The performances by Sjostrom, Andersson and Thulin are lovely but I found myself distracted by some truly broad acting in minor roles in the same way De Palma's one-off background line readers ruined it for the Pacino's in the foreground, carefully watch "Carlito's Way" for my grudge. This acting fault lies at the feet of the unassailable St. Bergman.
The first flashback at the summer house with the bitchy twins and the saccharine lovers and the dinner table jousting was so camp I was hoping for John Waters to spring up from under the table with a dirty punchline. In later moments the symbolism of missing hands on a wristwatch and other jottings from Freud's doodlebook made me admire Bunuel's better talent for powerfully rendered dreams on film-"Los Olvidados" has one in particular that might blow your mind as it did mine.
Covering territory that borders Tarkovsky's "The Mirror", the Russian stream-of-conscience childhood memoirs dug much, much deeper for me in its imagery and tone.
"Wild Strawberries" is a competent meditation on mortality and forgiveness, one that certainly had a great effect on future generations of filmmakers artistically, but one that I will have to again view for a better take 40 years from now when I might be more moved. I think sore bones and bad eyesight will help my reappraisal.