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Wild Strawberries (1957) cemented Ingmar Bergman's reputation outside his home country, elevating him to the ranks of the world's major film artists. The Swedish director gained global attention with Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) and The Seventh Seal (1957), earning commercial and critical success and introducing the public to a new kind of introspective, symbol-laden psychological cinema. He carried those themes and techniques further in Wild Strawberries, winning numerous international prizes (including the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, and Golden Globe and National Board of Review awards for Best Foreign Film) and an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay. It was a major art-house hit, and its screenplay was included in a collection of Bergman's scripts published in 1960. In the years to come, Wild Strawberries would become an important work for film-school study, and although today some critics consider its dream sequences and symbolism dated and heavy-handed, it remains a cherished film memory for many viewers.
The story concerns an elderly professor, Isak Borg, who in the course of his travel to receive an award from his alma mater, encounters people, places and memories that push him to re-examine his life and evaluate his behavior and attitude towards those closest to him through the years. He comes to realize how his life and career have isolated him from other people and cut him off from the joys of his youth.
The sensitive and affecting performance of Victor Sjostrom as Borg is still considered the film's greatest achievement, even by its detractors. This was the last of Sjostrom's more than 40 film appearances since his first in 1912. He was also a noted film director, both in Sweden and in the U.S., where his movies were released under the name "Seastrom." He directed eight films in Hollywood between 1924 and 1930 with such stars as Greta Garbo, Norma Shearer, John Gilbert and Edward G. Robinson. Among his most respected works from this period were two with Lillian Gish - The Scarlet Letter (1926) and the masterful The Wind (1928) - and the Lon Chaney thriller He Who Gets Slapped (1924). Sjostrom died less than three years after the release of the Bergman film.
Bergman has said the idea for the film came from a pre-dawn drive heading north from Stockholm in the spring of 1956. When he got as far as the city of Uppsala, he had a sudden desire to see his grandmother's house again. Standing in the courtyard of that familiar house, he was struck by the notion of making a film "completely realistically, about suddenly opening a door...and entering another period of one's existence, and all the time the past is going on, alive."
Although not yet 40 when he made Wild Strawberries, Bergman already felt that he had cut himself off from everything around him but his work and decided to make his protagonist "an old, tired egotist." He chose to make the character a doctor, based on one of his best friends, for what he called purely "practical" purposes. The memorable sequence of Borg's dream, in which his own corpse tries to pull him into a coffin, was based on a dream Bergman had. The part about the corpse double was invented for the screenplay, but the director said he had often dreamed of a hearse hitting a lamppost, dumping the coffin and corpse into the street.
Bergman's symbolism might have been considered even heavier had one planned shot worked out. There were to be dozens of snakes surrounding the actors in one scene, but before the cameras were ready to roll, the mass of reptiles the production team had gathered disappeared through a hole in the enclosure meant to contain them.
Wild Strawberries features many of the actors associated with the director over the years. Bibi Andersson has made fourteen pictures with Bergman, Ingrid Thulin (ten), and Gunnar Bjornstrand (twenty-one). And in a small role is Max von Sydow, who was the knight who played chess with death in The Seventh Seal, and who would make thirteen movies in all with Bergman.
The enduring influence of the film can be seen most obviously in an affectionate send-up of Bergman's style and themes, De Dva (1968, aka The Dove), filmed in mock Swedish and featuring Madeline Kahn, and in Deconstructing Harry (1997), a homage by one of Bergman's great admirers, Woody Allen. In the movie Allen plays a famous writer encountering the mistakes of his life while traveling to accept an award from the college that expelled him years earlier.
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Producer: Allan Ekelund
Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman
Cinematography: Gunnar Fischer
Editing: Oscar Rosander
Production Design: Gittan Gustafsson
Original Music: Erik Nordgren, Gte Lovn
Cast: Victor Sjostrom (Professor Isak Borg), Bibi Andersson (Sara), Ingrid Thulin (Marianne Borg), Gunnar Bjornstrand (Evald Borg), Jullan Kindahl (Agda).
BW-91m. Closed captioning.
by Rob Nixon