WILD STRAWBERRIES, 1957
Cast: Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Björnstrand, Jullan Kindahl, Folke Sundquist
After living a life marked by coldness, an aging professor is forced to confront the emptiness of his existence.
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It was the release of Wild Strawberries in 1957 and The Seventh Seal the same year that announced director, Ingmar Bergman on the international film scene. These two films are definitely his most accessible for an audience, and I include myself in this, who are more used to Hollywood movies.
The film occurs in one day, but sojourns into the past via protagonist Isak’s (Bergman’s mentor, Victor Sjöström) dreams. Isak is to be celebrated for serving fifty years as a doctor and drives to Lund for the ceremony. With him is daughter in law, Marianne, temporarily estranged from Isak’s son, Evald, who lives in Lund. Along the way, they pick up three young travellers, Sara, Vik and Anders, as well as rowing couple, Sten and Berit, who are eventually ordered out of the car by Marianne. On arrival in Lund, Isak gets his doctorate and Marianne and Evald reconcile, but what’s left is a slightly sad air. Isak is serenaded by Sara, Vik and Anders and as they leave, Sara tells him she loves him, ‘today, tomorrow and forever’. Only once they’re out of earshot, does Isak admit that he’d like to hear from them sometime. His confession is a revelation to himself as at the start of the film, he readily admits that he has withdrawn himself from social intercourse. His inability to communicate condemns him to his loneliness.
The film is permeated with a sense of time running out and never before has a clock without hands seemed so threatening. Isak sees two in the first dream sequence and later, in his mother’s house, she gives him a watch without hands. The suggestion is that his time is up
Also in the first dream sequence, Isak sees a coffin knocked off a hearse. Whoever is inside is struggling to get out and he reaches out his hand to help, only to find it is himself in the coffin. Blurry close ups of the two faces present Isak’s visceral confrontation with his own death and the dreams that follow carry on this theme of an inevitable end.
I would recommend this film to anyone but as much as it’s an accessible example of ‘art-house’, it remains very un-Hollywood. As Isak and Marianne begin the journey to Lund, the frankness of their exchange is a distinctly European cinematic quality. Marianne tells Isak that Evald hates him and that she pities him and it is Marianne, played by Ingrid Thulin, who is really testament to this difference between European and Hollywood filmmaking. She presents a notion of feminism in the male dominated 1950s. Superficially, she is dressed in an androgynous style until the very end of the film, but it is her autonomy that really solidifies her as a model of feminist representation. It is she who has left Evald in the marital home after he reacts impudently to news she is pregnant. At the end of the film when she is reconciled with Evald, he confesses to his father that he can’t live without her. It is a complete role reversal when compared with the masculine characters of Hollywood. Marianne also drives the car, berates Sten for his misogynistic bullying of his wife and gets in between the young men, Vik and Anders to break up a fight.
A theme that Hollywood shied away from and European cinema adopted in the 1950s was religion and Wild Strawberries is no exception. In one dream sequence, Isak impales his hand on a nail reminiscent of stigmata and suggestive of subsequent death. The two young travellers, Vik and Anders, are shown arguing about religion. Vik wants to become a priest but Anders taunts his beliefs, saying that as the child believes in Santa Claus, the adult believes in God.
Wild Strawberries has been rightly heralded as a masterpiece and for anyone looking to get into European cinema it’s definitely a good place to start!