Bergman’s ‘Smultronstället is a masterpiece. Out of a simple story of a crotchety man who makes a journey from Stockholm to Lund to receive an honorary degree for his fifty years stint as a doctor, the Swedish master has woven a universal saga of you and me. The life of a common man is etched in heroic proportions. Dr. Isaak Borg is somewhat like Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman who had all his useful life glossed over his insubstantial self in a cleverly orchestrated ritual of living. Beneath his urbane exterior there beats a cold heart that has wrought enough havoc with all who are closest to him. Like Miller’s salesman, his advanced years all of a sudden rip apart the carefully erected façade and also his defenses. The film is an interior ‘odyssey’ where his fears, frustrations and self-pity take shapes as any character from the Homer’s saga.
The world lost one of its greatest film directors last year. In his “celluloid poems” (as Woody Allen calls them), film genius Ingmar Bergman (1918-2007) examined the human condition in all of its bleakness, despair, humor, and hope, expanding our sense of what it means to be human. He favored intuition over intellect, and his films typically pondered the deepest concerns of humanity: mortality, loneliness, faith, and love. Considered one of his greatest films (and one of my personal favorites), Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället) brilliantly examines the life of an aging, 78-year-old medical doctor, Professor Isaak Borg (Victor Sjöström). This film weaves several strands of lives blighted unconsciously by this protagonist. While traveling with his lovely daughter-in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Thulin), from Stockholm to Lund they pass time in exchanges and he is rather surprised that she doesn’t particularly care for him or for Evald, his son. As the film progresses we see on what precipitous point their marriage stands and part of the blame lies with him. His inner journey is a journey of self-discovery; his daydreams, nightmares, and fellow travelers force him to face his past, examine his faults, and accept the inevitability of his impending death. Bergman’s film explores the difficulties of marriage and human relationships as shown in that of his own and on a rebound that of Evald and Marianne. His own inability to communicate is juxtaposed with the couple (whom he gives a ride). Their verbal thrusts and innuendos remind one of Albee’ Who is afraid of Virginia Wolf. Savor life’s wild strawberries while you can. Success is fleeting, but regrets and disappointments will follow us for the rest of our lives. The point is brought home in the dream sequence where he is judged as incompetent and the interlocutor informs loneliness as the punishment for his callousness. Because Borg’s inner journey is universal, Bergman’s film will always remain relevant and emotionally powerful.
The film won 11 awards including the Golden Globe.
Criterion’s edition includes a pristine digital transfer of Bergman’s bittersweet masterpiece, a 90-minute documentary by filmmaker and author Jörn Donner, improved English subtitle translation, and a commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie.
(ack: G. Merritt)
‘Bergman, …uses flashbacks and bright, lyrical storytelling to capture the full arc of one man’s life: the successes that seem fleeting, the disappointments that linger in the memory, the regrets that never seem to let go. In some ways, it can be seen as a forerunner of Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry, except that Bergman’s sense of irony is always more profound’.( Marshall Fine)
Other films of Bergman: Smiles of a Summer Night, Persona, Scenes from a Marriage, The Seventh Seal, Cries and Whispers, Through a Glass Darkly and The Silence