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Wild Strawberries: The Criterion Collection

Home Vision Entertainment

Starring Victor Sjostrom, Ingrid Thulin, and Bibi Andersson

Written and directed by Ingmar Bergman

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

Ingmar Bergman makes movies of high renown. He makes the kinds of movies that critics' organizations and professional associations and film festivals love to award with glittery statuettes and palms. He makes the kinds of movies college students love to brag about and that their professors spend hours poring over frame-by-frame. He makes films of prestige. Films that few will disparage and many will laud.

But has Bergman ever made a film that people actually like?

If he has, then Wild Strawberries may well be it. As usual, there is certainly much to admire in this 1958 meditation on aging, recollection and resolve, made only a year after the director's most famous work, The Seventh Seal. Gunnar Fischer's stark black-and-white photography is rich and stunning, the performances are natural and pitch-perfect, and the narrative is carefully and exquisitely tailored. Tipping favor towards Wild Strawberries, Bergman's playful, insightful humor is also given a run out, and the director also indulges in a modicum of sentimentality, adding accessibility where he usually opts for intellectual obscurity.

Victor Sjostrom stars as Isak Borg, an aging, withdrawn doctor en route to a prestigious ceremony honoring his life and work. Accompanied by his morose daughter-in-law (Ingrid Thulin), Dr. Borg learns of the embittering effect his strict and reserved ways have had on his only son, and from there the long road-trip becomes as journey into the past. Dr. Borg drifts into haunting memories of loss and weakness. He is soon overcome by the ironies of his life — namely that a man of such "knowledge" can in fact know so little about himself and those around him, and that such a distinguished award might be bestowed upon such a miserable failure. Eventually, however, Borg's self-obsession gives way and he begins to understand that a life lived ruing missed opportunities and sleights of character can never produce reparations, as well as some gentle human contact.

But for all of its great moments and intentions, Wild Strawberries is nevertheless — like its protagonist — too cold for too long. While Borg's eventual acceptance of his life and deeds is skillfully planned, it fails to transcend cerebral satisfaction into an emotional realm. It doesn't help that Sjostrom spends too much of the film indulging in tedious dream sequences and stalking around like a late Boris Karloff. The gifted Bergman again balks at escaping the intellectual straight-jacket that has always stifled his work from becoming more meaningful than just a conversation piece.

It's a great relief that Bergman indulges more liberally than usual in his sense of humor in Wild Strawberries, and there are some great snips of witty dialogue here and there. Also refreshing is Bibi Andersson as (in one part of her dual roles) a free-spirited young woman entertaining the conflicting affections of two hard-headed suitors.

Criterion's new digital transfer of Wild Strawberries is gorgeous in its original full-frame aspect ratio (1.33:1), and the Dolby Digital 1.0 audio track (in Swedish) is accompanied by newly translated digital English subtitles. Film Scholar Peter Cowie offers a dry commentary, and a stills gallery is included. But as on Criterion's release of Cries and Whispers, the real treat is a previously unreleased 90-minute Swedish documentary, Ingmar Bergman on His Life and Work, by John Donner.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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