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Criticwire Classic of the Week: Ingmar Bergman’s ‘Wild Strawberries’

Criticwire Classic of the Week: Ingmar Bergman's 'Wild Strawberries'

Every now and then on the Criticwire Network an older film gets singled out for attention. This is the Criticwire Classic of the Week.

“Wild Strawberries” (1957)
Dir: Ingmar Bergman
Criticwire Average: A+

Ingmar Bergman could be a forbidding director, with his constant musings on death, loneliness, religion, and the possibility that God either doesn’t exist or doesn’t care. But beneath his austere exterior lies genuine warmth for his characters and concern for humanity as a whole. Few films demonstrate this more fully that 1957’s “Wild Strawberries.”

Silent film director Victor Sjöström (later Seastrom during his U.S. career) stars as Isak Borg, an elderly, cantankerous and self-important professor traveling with his pregnant daughter-in-law (Ingrid Thulin) to accept an honorary doctorate at his old university. Along the way, they pick up hitchhikers who remind Sjöström of his past experiences in love, marriage and relationships, and they force him to reevaluate his life as he approaches the end of it.

The film famously begins with a dream sequence as unsettling as that of any horror movie, but it shows a gentler (if still introspective) side of the chilly Swede overall. His work could sometimes suffer from meaningful imagery overload, but “Wild Strawberries” balances it with its modesty. Bergman and Sjöström work to make Borg more than just an average curmudgeon, by turns cold and argumentative or joyful and bittersweet. The story now sounds like fodder for a rote “old codger learns to like people” narrative, but “Wild Strawberries” is more about a man’s gradual coming to terms with who he was, who he is, and what he’s leaving behind.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Casey Dewey, Network Awesome

[Sjöström] carries Wild Strawberries the length of the film, his often charming and playful presence carries with it a deep undertow of sadness and regret. Sure, Borg may have been a successful doctor, living in a nice house in the Swedish countryside, but his past is marred with lost opportunity and here he is, running out of time. He’s a man from a lost era, an era where men buried their secrets in drink, infidelities and other roguish behaviors. Therapy was for the weak, self-acceptance was a battle. Men struggled and fought it out in their dreams as they slept, something Freud knew all too well. “Wild Strawberries,” a smaller and less grandiose film than Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal,” which came out the same year, both share a similar theme – men looking at the last months of their lives, and searching for the meaning of it all. Read more.

Tony Dayoub, Cinema Viewfinder

It’s a dense, introspective look at an aging professor (“The Phantom Carriage” director Victor Sjöström) on the way to a valedictory appearance to receive a lifetime achievement award. The long road trip he takes with his daughter-in-law (Thulin) is cause for reflection and a chance for the master filmmaker to demonstrate cinema’s ability to get into a character’s head in a way the theater rarely can. Bergman also uses the opportunity to pay tribute to two men: his stern father —on which he based the character of the professor—and Sjöström himself, a veteran actor and filmmaking mentor who influenced all of Swedish cinema. Read more.

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