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Traveling to accept an honorary degree, Professor Isak Borg—masterfully played by veteran director Victor Sjöström (The Phantom Carriage)—is forced to face his past, come to terms with his faults, and make peace with the inevitability of his approaching death. Through flashbacks and fantasies, dreams and nightmares, Wild Strawberries dramatizes one man’s remarkable voyage of self-discovery. This richly humane masterpiece, full of iconic imagery, is a treasure from the golden age of art-house cinema and one of the films that catapulted Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal) to international acclaim.
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Professor Borg is supposed to get an honorary degree in Lund that evening, and after waking from a horrifying dream that seems to be about death and loss of identity that only Ingmar Bergman could cook up, decides at 3AM to drive his car rather than fly as originally planned. His housekeeper of 40 years has a fit and he teases her that she is carrying on like a wife. In spite of the early hour his only son's wife, who is staying with him, asks to come along too.
So off they go at dawn for the long drive up the coast. In fact, I found Professor Borg to be a good guy. His daughter-in-law, who is his guest, talks about how ruthless he is. I'm sorry I just don't see it. When they stop at a gas station the young attendant talks about how Borg is still remembered from decades before when he was a physician there and insists on paying for his gas. Borg cheerfully invites a young girl named Sara and her two male companions to ride with them as far as Lund - they are going to Italy together. When the group is sideswiped by a couple, Borg invites them to ride with them. It is only because the husband berates his wife to the point that she hits him repeatedly that they are asked to leave, and then it is the daughter in law who does the asking.
Borg makes various stops. He stops at his summer home as a child and revisits, not a memory, but an episode he could not have seen or heard because he was elsewhere at the time, between his first and true love Sarah and his brother Sigfrid, as he tries to steal her away from Isak with some bold physical behavior and must have won, because the two went on to marry and have six children. Yet, Borg does not seem angry. Instead you see a trace of a smile and nostalgia on his face, especially when he sees Sara in tears talking to her cousin about Isak's sweetness versus Sigfrid's physicality and how she is horrified that she is attracted to the latter.
This is really the only pleasant dream/daydream/memory of the several along the way. In the end I figured that the young girl and her two struggling paramours are probably signifying Isak, Sigfrid, and Sara in his youth, and the feuding couple probably represents Borg's own unhappy marriage in which, after seeing how he felt about Sara and how he must have felt losing her to his own rather boorish brother, the wife could not have helped but feel like anything but the back up plan. Isak and Karin had only the one child, their son, compared to Sigfrid's six. His own son, married for many years, has none. It's like Bergman is equating fertility to connectivity, not just to a spouse, but to people in general. In the end, it's not like Isak Borg was a bad person who redeems himself because of all of these dreams and touches with the distant past, but he does seem more at peace with his coming death as he readies for bed that night.
I'd highly recommend it. I'm no expert on Swedish cinema or Bergman at all, but I thought it was interesting how Bergman seems to be saying that Borg's "wrong turn", if there was any at all, could be traced back to losing his first and true love to his own brother, and that everything after that just fed off of that disappointment. As I look back on my life, I think that I can agree with that assessment.
And now a word about the daughter-in-law. She accuses Isak of having said some just horrible things. Things he does not remember saying and things the audience never hears. Perhaps she wants to blame her husband's bleak and icy behavior on someone and Isak is convenient? At any rate, by journey's end she has warmed to Isak enough to confide in him about a great turmoil in her marriage. This was more of a change in her than any change I saw in Isak.
This one is really worth a look, even if you normally aren't into foreign film. My review is just my take on the plot. I'm sure it means many things to many people or we wouldn't still be discussing and watching it 60 years later.
Though the film is somewhat slow, I feel there are things you can take away from it that relate to your own life. The black and white photography is stunning and crisp. I highly recommend this film.
What I also admire in this DVD is the interview conducted by Jorg Donner. He so well draws out Ingmar Bergman on such a wide variety of issues that you come away with a marvelous intellectual and emotional portrait of the artist. What is more, you hear from the maestro's own mouth of the breadth of his own work during his nearing century --- over 50 films, countless theatrical and operatic productions, some 120, which continue to propel him in his advancing age.
Bergman may well be the Shakespeare of our own age, and Donner's drawing out helps you to realize this. As The Bard drew his English from the first Book of Common Prayer, so may Bergman be the artistic idiom from which not only some of the present filmmakers and writers receive their inspiration, but perhaps may well project into the future.........if writers and directors are wise. For just as Bergman struggled with the Svensk Filmindustri in his early development (just as did Kurosawa with the Japanese Film Institute), so must the present and next generation struggle to find meaning. Not that I am seeing much from them right now, you understand.....
Donner also helps us to see that Ingmar continues to be a work in progress, still growing and changing in aspect of mind and body, proving that the apogee is not met at some legislated retirement age. What a fine interview!
My mind's eye returns to the movie. Isn't it a marvel how Bergman develops his characters, especially the venerable Victor Sjostrom, and the simultaneous vulnerability and lyricism of the kids? What a sweet show.
This is filmmaking at its best, and restoration at its highest. I only regret that Amazon (the Greek of that word literally meaning "the breastless ones") prohibits me from giving more than five stars, five less than in my heart.