Leeds International Film Festival – Wild Strawberries

Writer & Director: Ingmar Bergman

Music: Erik Nordgren

Reviewer: Rich Jevons

Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället) from 1957 is written and directed by the Swedish Svengali Ingmar Bergman and tackles the eternal question of our mortality and the meaning of our lives, especially as one approaches old age.

Professor Isak Borg (played by silent cinema actor-director Victor Sjöström) is a 78-year-old widower. He embarks on a car journey from Stockholm to Lund, where he is to receive an honorary degree from his old university.

With him on the journey, is his daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin) who, despite being pregnant, plans to split up from her husband who has no interest in the child and, like his father, has a morbid obsession with death, both consciously and subconsciously. 

On the way, they are nearly killed in a car crash, and coming from the wreckage is an argumentative married couple who take things just too far for the professor. He expels them from his car, but next up on his travels are a trio of hitch-hikers.

The girl is playing her two traveling companions against each other and reminds Isak of his long-lost sweetheart. Bergman takes us through his protagonist’s troubled psyche with reveries of the past and dreams that confirm to us that he fears death and has many regrets about his life. Naima Wifstrand as his ninety-something mother plays a key role, mistaking Marianne for Isak’s wife, which then brings back issues that he has in his head about his late partner’s fidelity.

Gunnar Fischer’s cinematography is absolutely masterful and  Sjöström’s performance is endearing and compelling. There are moments of existential ennui, right next to lighter, but equally moving, scenes.

The film could be seen as a precursor of the road-movie genre that allows us to be taken from one scene to another in a way impossible in other forms. But also the scripting is exacting and pulled off brilliantly by the entire ensemble.

A masterpiece of post-war cinema that is a clear indication of the subjects Bergman would take on in the rest of his prolific oeuvre. Certainly, Jung would have loved to have both filmmaker Bergman and his character Isak on his psychoanalytical couch.

Reviewed on 7 November 2018 | Image: Contributed

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Enchanting & bewildering

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The Southwest team is under the editorship of Holly Spanner. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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