Wednesday, July 13, 2005

"Wild Strawberries" Worth Picking

Smultronstallet (Wild Strawberries). 1957. Dir. Ingmar Bergman. Perf. Victor Sjostrom, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Bjornstrand, Jullan Kindahl, Folke Sundquist, Bjorn Bjelfvenstam, Naima Wifstrand.

Wild Strawberries is a film about memories. Early in the film, Professor Isak Borg (Sjostrom) stares at the ruins of his childhood summer home and comments that his memory of it is stronger than its real presence before him. Suddenly we watch the onscreen ruins blossom into a stately Swedish home, and Borg is caught between age and memory, as his real life collides with dreams of death and recollections of the past.

Traveling cross-country with his daughter-in-law Marianne (Thulin), three young adventurers, and (briefly) a quarreling couple, Borg is not only venerated but often asked for advice. One of the adventurers, Sara (Andersson), bears a striking resemblance to Borg's childhood sweetheart, also a Sara, who is played by the same actress. As the young Sara and the old man draw close, Borg is also able to enjoy the memories of his childhood love and even, perhaps, to accept its unhappy ending. At the same time, he also faces up to the misery behind his relationship with his wife, now deceased. Although it quickly becomes apparent that Borg has never found any truly fulfilling relationships over the course of his life, the friendships he builds with the new Sara and with his daughter-in-law serve as a catharsis for the older states of affairs.

The worst thing about this film were the subtitles, both because it was difficult to imagine them with the inflections of the actors' words and because the momentary attention a viewre is forced to pay to the subtitle breaks the continutity of the film. After fiteen or twenty minutes, however, the subtitles become a little less conspicuous, and the story begins to carry itself. The soundtrack is amazingly subtle yet perfect; at times, it blends in so carefully that it is inconspicuous, while in other scenes it draws the action forward.

Sjostrom's performance as the old professor is remarkable. The transformation from crustiness to gentleness and friendship is unaffected and believable, and Sjostrom is able to carry the weight of an enormous theme frokm conception to conclusion. Bibi Andersson, as well, plays both her roles excellently, even managing to blend certain aspects of her characters to draw out the similarities betewen them while maintaining them as two separate roles. However, my favorite character to watch was easily Marianne. Not only would I enjoy the character were she to appear in real life, but Ingrid Thulin manages to play her sympathetically but unaffectedly. Marianne is blunt and direct but also very endearing, and Thulin's ability to balance both without capitalizing on Marianne's endearing qualities is easily appreciated.

Watching this film requires more mental exertion and focus than do many of our modern films. It is old enough that Bergman does not cater to short attention spans or rely on cheap tricks. It is blunt, honest, and thought-provoking. Watch it if you dare.

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