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  Wild Strawberries What Have You Done?
Year: 1957
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Victor Sjostrom, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Julian Kindahl, Folke Sundquist, Bjorn Bjelfvenstam, Naima Wifstrand, Gunnel Brostrom, Gertrud Fridh, Sif Ruud, Gunnar Sjoberg, Max von Sydow, Ake Fridell, Yngve Nordwall, Per Sjostrand
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  9 (from 1 vote)
Review: Doctor Eberhard Isak Borg (Victor Sjostrom) is an ageing academic, hugely respected in his field and to mark that, he has been invited to a ceremony today where he will receive an award. He admits he usually stays away from gatherings, indeed aside from his housekeeper he stays away from people in general, but he is coming to realise this inability to connect with others stems less from his disdain for them and more from a personality that never learned to. And last night, he had the most awful nightmare which he has been trying to decipher all morning, as he decides to set off early on the long drive to the ceremony...

Ingmar Bergman was always, even in his heyday, considered a daunting figure in cinema, someone the chinstrokers went along to watch and draw deep from the well of his insight, while everyone else was left baffled at best. Not that Wild Strawberries was without its conundrums, but it did come to be viewed as the most accessible of Bergman's classics, probably because of the nimble way it went about presenting themes that anybody could understand and even relate to. It was about the big question that looms as one grows older: have I wasted my time on this Earth? Is there more I could have done? Is it too late to do anything productive?

Such are the issues troubling Isak as he makes his way to pick up his gong, and the film conveyed his unease by stepping into his past as he mulls it over. We see him looking on as his young manhood appears to have guided him towards his dislike of human contact, then wonder if his even colder and more elderly mother had anything to do with what obviously needs a few sessions in therapy, and further than that, whether he has passed on this gene to his son, whose marriage is suffering in a manner not unlike Isak's did when he was married to his late wife (we see her in those fluid flashbacks as well). Could a lack of empathy really be that harmful?

Could it be passed on like a virus? His companion on his journey is Marianne (Ingrid Thulin), his daughter-in-law, who admits before they set off that she never really liked him because of how cold be was towards everybody. Yet, oddly, Isak doesn't quite seem that way to us, indeed he seems to be someone worthy of compassion, either because he navigated the relationships in his life so badly but not really intentionally, or because of that nightmare we watch at the beginning, one of the greatest ever put on film. It was also an in-joke, for it echoes Sjostrom's most celebrated film from when he was a director and putting Swedish cinema on the international map, The Phantom Carriage - did Bergman arrange his story just so to attract Sjostrom to the project?

If he did, it worked like a, er, dream, because you become very invested in Isak's redemption despite seeing what a misguided piece of work he could be in the years before his choices led to pushing others away and embracing not the love of his life, but a peculiar isolation that academia welcomes. We are given insight after insight into Isak, from his past to his mistakes to his subconscious, and it constructs a portrait of a poor soul who never latched on to where he was going wrong until it was almost time for him to leave this world behind. That sounds heavy, but while Bergman could labour his dreads and doomladen opining about how to survive in a Godless universe, we do understand that, yes, it's an old cliche, but life is what you make it. There's such a lightness, a sympathy, to Wild Strawberries (named after a sweet treat from the woods around Isak's childhood home) that it turns unexpectedly touching for a film that says, we're all gonna die, get used to it, because it represented this director at his most generous, making what could have been blunt into something moving. Music by Erik Nordgren.

[Ingmar Bergman's Wild Strawberries (1957) receives a standalone Blu-ray release after its inclusion in the Ingmar Bergman: Volume 2 collection. There's a fully illustrated booklet as an extra.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Ingmar Bergman  (1918 - 2007)

Undoubtedly one of the greatest artists of cinema, Ingmar Bergman was often accused of being too depressing as his subjects covered the existence (or otherwise) of God and deep-seated marital problems (he himself was married five times), but he always approached them with a sympathetic eye. Among his most memorable films were Summer with Monika, Smiles of a Summer Night, The Seventh Seal (with its unforgettable chess game with Death), Wild Strawberries, The Virgin Spring (the inspiration for Last House on the Left), Through a Glass Darkly, The Silence, Persona, Hour of the Wolf, Cries and Whispers, Scenes from a Marriage and Fanny and Alexander. He also made international stars of Max von Sydow, Liv Ullman and Bibi Andersson.

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