A ruminative drama on the fear of death and loneliness, matched by a great performance by Victor Sjostrom.
Cast: Victor Sjostrom, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin
Plot: Traveling to receive an honorary degree, Professor Isak Borg is forced to face his past, come to terms with his faults, and accept the inevitability of his approaching death.
Awards: Won Golden Bear and FIPRESCI Prize (Berlinale); Won Pasinetti Award (Venice); Nom. for Best Original Screenplay (Oscars)
Source: AB Svensk Filmindustri
Subject Matter: Moderate – Mortality; Memory
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse
Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
First Published: 11 May 2015
Starring whom many consider the ‘father’ of Swedish cinema, Victor Sjostrom, in the lead role as Dr. Isak Borg, an ageing professor who makes a road trip to receive an honorary degree, Wild Strawberries explores themes of loneliness and the fear of death.
It is a ruminative drama that is semi-structured, as free as the mind would absolve all thoughts, but never empty in its portrayal of honest emotions.
In an early sequence, Bergman subjects Sjostrom’s character to a near-silent nightmare – a horse carriage carrying a coffin, at once a tribute to the latter’s silent masterwork The Phantom Carriage (1921), and a foreshadowing of impending death, shot in high contrast black-and-white.
Living a life of coldness and distancing himself from any forms of relationship, Dr. Borg’s road trip together with his daughter-in-law is marked by still vivid memories of his childhood.
“When you were little you believed in Santa Claus, now you believe in God.”
A series of dreams, some nightmares, function as flashbacks to a distant past. He recalls a lost love, and remembers his siblings and parents.
The dreamlike sequences act as counterpoints of guilt and regret, of having lived a life that would soon come to pass. It is often said that your life flashes by at the moment of your death, but Bergman despite being an eternal pessimist of cinema, harbours hopes for that moment to be one of peace and calm.
Sjostrom’s great mournful performance is a treasure, earning him a FIPRESCI award at the Berlin International Film Festival, where Wild Strawberries won the Golden Bear.
While the film may not have come across to me as utterly fascinating, I think any list of world cinema would be incomplete without what has been widely regarded as one of Bergman’s very best.