A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

The portrait of old age in Wild Strawberries was created by a writer-director who was 39, which is about the right time for someone to become obsessed with the past and with the portents of dreams. In the film, Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) is 78, and by that time -- speaking as one who is nearing that age -- most of us have come to terms with the past and made sense of (or perhaps just accepted as a given) the memories and dreams that persist in haunting us. But although Bergman's film, one of the handful of breakthrough films he made in the mid-1950s, may not ring entirely true psychologically, it holds up thematically. Isak Borg is about to be commemorated with an honorary degree, one that stamps him as over the hill, and it's not surprising that it forces him to reflections about the course of his life. He is not about to go gentle into a night that he thinks of as neither good nor bad, but the journey he takes during the film -- this is an Ingmar Bergman "road movie," after all -- helps him decide to accept his life, mistakes and all. The brilliantly crabby performance by Sjöström holds it all together, even though the movie occasionally misfires: The squabbling young hitchhikers Anders (Folke Sundquist) and Viktor (Björn Bjelfenstam), who come to blows over religious faith, could almost be a self-parody of Bergman's own obsession, which would play itself out rather tiresomely in his "trilogy of faith," Through a Glass Darkly (1961), Winter Light (1963), and The Silence (1963). And the dream sequence in which Borg sees his late wife (Gertrud Fridh) and her lover (Åke Fridell) adds little to our understanding of the character. It's also possible to find the reconciliation of Borg's son (Gunnar Björnstrand) and daughter-in-law (Ingrid Thulin) a little too easily achieved, as if thrown in as a correlative to Borg's own affirmation. The radiant performance of Bibi Andersson in the double role of Borg's cousin Sara and the young hitchhiker who shares her name, however, almost brings the film into convincing focus. I don't think Wild Strawberries is a masterpiece, but it's certainly one of the essential films in the Bergman oeuvre.