Directed by: Ingmar Bergman || Produced by: Allan Ekelund
Screenplay by: Ingmar Bergman || Starring: Victor Sjostrom, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Bjornstrand
Music by: Erik Nordgren || Cinematography: Gunnar Fischer || Editing by: Oscar Rosander || Country: Sweden || Language: Swedish
Running Time: 91 minutes
While not as visually iconic as The Seventh Seal (1957) released that same year, Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries is another inventive, multi-layered film experience that demonstrates Bergman’s dept skill as a cinematic storyteller. The master Swedish director weaves a tender-hearted tale through flashback sequences, surrealist imagery, and a fine performance from his lead man, Victor Sjostrom.
Wild Strawberries feels decidedly like Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (1843) or any one of its numerous film adaptations. Like Dickens’ classic novella, Wild Strawberries makes liberal use of dream-like flashback sequences to tell its story and flesh out its main character. Most of the protoganist’s development is built into these surrealist scenes in which Sjostrom’s character reflects upon major events in his life and how they made him the man he is today. Sjostrom also uses these daydream sequences as opportunities to learn from his past mistakes and reevaluate his relationship with his family, namely his daughter-in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Thulin), and son.
The story follows Sjostrom as he travels with Marianne to receive an honorary award from his former university. This significant recognition of Sjostrom’s accomplishments in his career as a medical professor cause him to reflect upon his accomplishments in his personal life. Over the course of the trip, Sjostrom journeys through the caverns of his troubled past and ultimately finds redemption through his understanding and acknowledgement of his faults. Sjostrom also finds a second chance at atoning for his past misdeeds through his encounters with other characters that he and Marianne meet along the way. Many of these characters remind Sjostrom of his youth and his family, both in good times and bad, and through his interactions with them he is able to come to terms with his past and move on. Finally, Sjostrom further develops through his interactions with his estranged daughter-in-law, who brings her own past troubles to the table and is able to achieve significant character growth on her terms as well.
Wild Strawberries is full of stuff like this. There is so much touching character development and deep introspection in the narrative that the film feels like it will burst from all the healthy emotional growth. Sjostrom and Marianne undergo major (and believable) change, and their reconciliation at the end is one of the most touching moments in cinema you will ever see.
Part of what makes Wild Strawberries so charming and intelligent is that it is optimistic, yet not naively so. It’s brutally honest about how our past mistakes can haunt us and how hallow our personal lives can feel despite achievements in our professions. It traces the long-lasting effects of lost loves and loveless, dysfunctional families, all the without ever feeling like a cheesy Bollywood melodrama or a pretentious, cliched American indie-flick. Strawberries tackles so much emotional ground in its brief 91 minutes that it is astonishing. The adventure feels so full, so fleshed out, and so nuanced in its presentation that it achieves rich character growth in the most satisfying ways possible.
Admittedly, Wild Strawberries fails to reach the complex thematic heights of greater works like Bergman’s own The Seventh Seal, but that’s the only complaint against it. It’s charming (and mature) optimism is augmented through simple yet effective screenwriting that emphasizes character growth over dense symbolism. Combined with its likable cast, Wild Strawberries is an intelligent feelgood movie that’s sure to brighten your day — and stimulate your brain in the process!
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Wild Strawberries is a cocktail mix of dream sequences, long-take conversations, and soft-lit, high-key cinematography, all for the purpose of an emotional, introspective character study. Victor Sjostrom does a great job as Bergman’s Scrooge-esque protagonist.
? Domesticated strawberries for the sequel?