The film that catapulted Bergman to the forefront of world cinema is the director's richest, most humane movie. Traveling to receive an honorary degree, Professor Isak Borg (masterfully played by the veteran Swedish direct... more »or Victor Sjöström), is forced to face his past, come to terms with his faults, and accept the inevitability of his approaching death. Through flashbacks and fantasies, dreams and nightmares, Wild Strawberries captures a startling voyage of self-discovery and renewed belief in mankind.« less
"In this symbolic tale of an old man's journey from emotional isolation to a kind of personal renaissance, Ingmar Bergman explores in part his own past, and in doing so rewards us all with a tale of redemption and love.
Victor Sjostrom, then 80 years old, stars as Professor Isak Borg whose self-indulgent cynicism has left him isolated from others. Sjostrom, whose work goes back to the very beginning of the Swedish cinema in the silent film era, both as an actor and as a director, gives a brilliant and compelling performance. All the action of the film takes place in a single day with flashbacks and dream sequences to Borg's past as Borg wakes and goes on a journey to receive a "Jubilee Doctor" degree from the University of Lund. Bergman wrote that the idea for the film came upon him when he asked the question, "What if I could suddenly walk into my childhood?" He then imagined a film "about suddenly opening a door, emerging in reality, then turning a corner and entering another period of one's existence, and all the time the past is going on, alive."
Bibi Andersson plays both the Sara from Borg's childhood, the cousin he was to marry, and the hitchhiker Sara who with her two companions befriends him with warmth and affection. The key scene is when the ancient Borg in dreamscape comes upon the Sara of his childhood out gathering wild strawberries. Borg looks on (unnoticed of course) as his brother, the young Sigfrid, ravishes her with a kiss which she returns passionately; and, as the wild strawberries fall from her bowl onto her apron, staining it red, Borg experiences the pain of infidelity and heartbreak once again. Note that in English we speak of losing one's "cherry"; here the strawberries symbolize emotionally much the same thing for Sara. Later on in the film as the redemption comes, the present day Sara calls out to Borg that it is he that she really loves, always and forever. Borg waves her away from the balcony, yet we are greatly moved by her love, and we know how touched he is.
The two young men accompanying Sara can be seen as reincarnations of the serious and careful Isak Borg and the more carefree and daring Sigfrid. It is as though his life has returned to him as a theater in which the characters resemble those of his past; yet we are not clear in realizing whether the resemblance properly belongs in the old man's mind or is a synchronicity of time returned.
Memorable is Ingrid Thulin who plays Mariana, the wife of Borg's son who accompanies him on the auto trip to Lund. She begins with frank bitterness toward the old man but ends with love for him; and again we are emotionally moved at the transformation. What Bergman does so very well in this film is to make us experience forgiveness and the transformation of the human spirit from the negative emotions of jealousy and a cold indifference that is close to hate, to the redemption that comes with love and a renewal of the human spirit. In quiet agreement with this, but with the edge of realism fully intact, is the scene near the end when Borg asks his long time housekeeper and cook if they might not call one another by their first names. She responses that even at her age, a woman has her reputation to consider. Such a gentle comeuppance meshes well with, and serves as a foil for, all that has gone on before on this magical day in an old man's life.
See this for Bergman who was just then realizing his genius (The Seventh Seal was produced immediately before this film) and for Sjostrom who had the rare opportunity to return to film as an actor in a leading role many decades past his prime, and made the most of it with a flawless performance, his last major performance as he was to die three years later."
Bergman's Masterwork Poses the Important Question.
Dennis Littrell | 11/23/1998
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In Ingmar Berman's film masterpiece Smultronstallet (or `Wild Strawberries' B&W, 1957), the protagonist, an elderly professor who is facing death, has to come to face to face with a long life that has failed to answer the important questions. He is old now and faced with his own inadequacy and impotence. Bergman introduces three young people into the drama to introduce life's most important question - that of the existence of God. The old man gives them a ride. One of the young men is thinking about becoming a parson; the other argues that God doesn't exist. The old man offers no opinion to the debate. He is silent, but it is a loud silence. It's a silence that reveals an amazing dimension of loss - the loss of year upon year of not coming to terms with this all-important question. In one of the final scenes, Bergman masterfully closes in tight on the aged face of Professor Isak Borg (played by Victor Sjostrom). In that shot, we can see the whole universe in his eyes and all of its cares in the bags beneath them. Only Bergman could have directed that scene - only him. It makes Smultronstallet one of the most important films ever made. That one scene, better than any other that I know, captures `loss' on celluloid for all future generations to witness and have to deal with. If you see it, you may find yourself having to look away. The imagery in Smultronstallet is unparalleled, except by Bergman's own Det Sjunde inseglrt (The Seventh Seal, 1957). Look for the handless watch, the corpse wagon, the sparseness of the first scene, the car windows turning to black - ominous signs are everywhere. Notice the clues that point to Bergman's existential philosophy (the twins write a song for a deaf man - as futile as Sisyphus' labor!) and the redemption themes (Izak pierces his hand as he looks into the window, or the line: "A doctor's first duty is to ask for forgiveness."). Notice also the outright defiance of the divine presence that he has bred into his son ("I will not be forced to live one day longer than I want to."). Izak is ready to die, but it seems that, for him, life is more forbidding than death. He is a living corpse, dead already. All of these factors conspire to create a film that is pure art, and one that gets richer with each repeated viewing. It is also ennobling and cathartic in the truest sense of the Greek drama - a warning to the men of ancient Greece to avoid the tragic flaw is the hero's undoing, and could be ours as well. We are made to look hard at Izak. Do we like what we see? Have we answered the important question that he has not? If not, Izak is us. To quote a line from the film: "Is there no mercy?" The reply comes: "Don't ask me." I hope that all of us will fare better when confronted with this important question."
"Bergman is one of my favorite director and for my money, this is his best movie. I love the way he tells the story with narration and great dream and nightmare sequences. The wonderful thing is, it's a serious and dramatic film but also entertaining at the same time. Sometimes it moves slow (like the main character, a 78 year old professor) and it also moves faster when younger people are involve in the story. The great Victor Sjostrom gives such a superb human performance that you feel everything he's feeling and I think this is why I love this movie so much, he takes you with him on an emotionnal journey that you don't forget. Other strong points: the beautiful and touching performance of the daughter in law (Ingrid Thulin), the energetic performance of the beautiful young girl (Bibi Anderson), great photography, wonderful screenplay and the score is perfect. I heard often that Bergman made depressing movies, maybe they're not like the musicals of the 50's but I've seen a lot of his work and I don't find it depressing at all, if you watch and listen closely you will always find a message of hope somewhere.
Like Kurosawa, Fellini and Carné to name a few, his movies are great art full of symbolism and humanity, almost inexistant today in cinema. This is a must buy if you like this movie cause the transfer by Criterion is great and they give us a 90 minutes interview with Bergman (very serious but fascinating if you want to know more about the man). Also an audio commentary by Peter Cowie (who also did one on the seventh seal) and photos of the production."
Niloofar Ziae | 01/22/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am not going to summarize the plot. Amazon.com's editors do a good job of that.I watched this, Wild Strawberries, right after viewing of The Seventh Seal. Both films have extremely strong visuals and both deal with similar themes--Bergman remains convinced that there is nothing beyond death and hence his characters are symbolizations of the director's existential angst. However, while the characters in The Seventh Seal are archetypal and theatrical, Isaac Borg is extremely human. He is real and so are his emotions and sentiments (with which Bergman so passionately sympathizes). This makes the film touching and Borg's failures and triumphs become our own.There is another review of this film by a customer (Brian Ridge), which claims that the reason he liked the film is because he is (or was) a film major, which makes it difficult for the rest of the "mainstream" to like this movie. He is mistaken, Bergman's films were very well recieved by the American "mainstream." Indeed, it was Bergman who pioneered the American foreign film market. Secondly, the films which he names as being similar to this one are, quite frankly, just some movies by major international directors--Bunuel, Bergman, Kubrick, Allen, Scorsese, etc. These are all great directors but that does not make their cinema "similar." Each had their own cinematic concerns. The only similarity between these directors is that one does not need a film degree to appreciate them!"
All that, and Jorg Donner's interview
Joel Marcus Johnson | Easton, MD United States | 01/21/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I need not repeat all the fine words of the previous writers, except to say I am grateful to Criterion for delivering the same crisp print I remember from years ago when WS was first available in the US. What a fine accomplishment. (Would that the company were to concentrate on historic preservation, as opposed to some of its recent dubious works.)
What I also admire in this DVD is the interview conducted by Jorg Donner. He so well draws out Ingmar Bergman on such a wide variety of issues that you come away with a marvelous intellectual and emotional portrait of the artist. What is more, you hear from the maestro's own mouth of the breadth of his own work during his nearing century --- over 50 films, countless theatrical and operatic productions, some 120, which continue to propel him in his advancing age.
Bergman may well be the Shakespeare of our own age, and Donner's drawing out helps you to realize this. As The Bard drew his English from the first Book of Common Prayer, so may Bergman be the artistic idiom from which not only some of the present filmmakers and writers receive their inspiration, but perhaps may well project into the future.........if writers and directors are wise. For just as Bergman struggled with the Svensk Filmindustri in his early development (just as did Kurosawa with the Japanese Film Institute), so must the present and next generation struggle to find meaning. Not that I am seeing much from them right now, you understand.....
Donner also helps us to see that Ingmar continues to be a work in progress, still growing and changing in aspect of mind and body, proving that the apogee is not met at some legislated retirement age. What a fine interview!
My mind's eye returns to the movie. Isn't it a marvel how Bergman develops his characters, especially the venerable Victor Sjostrom, and the simultaneous vulnerability and lyricism of the kids? What a sweet show.
This is filmmaking at its best, and restoration at its highest. I only regret that Amazon (the Greek of that word literally meaning "the breastless ones") prohibits me from giving more than five stars, five less than in my heart."