Monday, September 23, 2013

Wild Strawberries

It's very many years since I last saw Ingmar Bergman's 1957 movie, Wild Strawberries, so when I came across a DVD copy in the Library, I grabbed it.  I'd gone off Bergman after a while, because his later films were so bleak, but Wild Strawberries is unusual in having something of a positive ending, and in seeing growth rather than decay in a character.

The performance by is wonderful; apparently he found it quite exhausting (he was 78 when he made the movie) and struggled to remember lines.  For all that he brings a marvellous depth to his character.  He's surrounded by a wonderful cast, with many Bergman regulars in it.  Bibi Anderson plays two characters in it, both named Sara, their lives separated by some fifty years.  The one from the past is a self-centred, pouting child, who can't make up her mind which cousin to marry (she marries the wastrel, in the end).  The other is a contemporary girl, full of shocking sayings (for their time), and equally unable to make up her mind which boy she loves (she's trailed after by an atheist and a young man who's going into the church ministry). However, she's a woman who knows her own mind a good deal more, and is far more spontaneous, than the other girl.

The story is probably well-known: Sjöström plays a man, Dr Isak Borg, who is about to be decorated after a successful life in medicine.  But circumstances, including the unfaithfulness of his long deceased wife, have caused him to become remote from people, and careless about their emotions.  After a frightening dream, in which death plays a prominent part, he decides to drive to the ceremony (in another town, some 12-14 hours away) instead of flying there.  His daughter-in-law, who has been staying with him, decides on the spur of the moment, to join him in the drive.  

The doctor makes a detour to visit the old family holiday home, and finds himself seeing scenes from his past - a past where everything is always in sunshine, and the large family and their cousins are thoroughly enjoying their time. After this, he picks up the three youngsters, and then, after narrowly avoiding a car crash, adds the bickering and hurtful couple whose car has been damaged to the passengers.  These two are eventually thrown out of the car again when they can't stop picking away at each other.  

He stops off in the village where his aged mother lives (the actress was actually 13 years younger than
Sjöström); she continually snipes about her family and their children, and is cold and remote, like her son.  There are some scenes between Borg and his daughter-in-law, and we discover that Borg's own son is also a cold man, who doesn't want children, and who is at odds with his father. 

In spite of all this creeping coldness (a sign of the kind of films Bergman would make later) the film ends in a sunshine mood - the daughter-in-law and her husband seem to be picking their cautiously back together again; the three youngsters continue their joi de vivre, Borg himself discovers something about his nature and how he can change it, and at the end, sees himself back at the holiday home, where light and joy abound, in spite of all the contrasting personalities. 

There are several dreams or hallucinatory scenes in the movie, some much darker than others.  Each one gradually forces the doctor to uncover the things that have held him back from being more connected with other people.  We never find out what everything in these scenes mean - some have a kind of Dali-esque quality about them - but we sense their importance to the doctor.  

The film is beautifully shot (though not always concerned about continuity from shot to shot) and the performances are wonderful.  I finished up seeing it one and a half times, and enjoyed it just as much on the second time round as the first.
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