Tuesday, August 14, 2007


WILD STRAWBERRIES is yet another pantheon movie from superlative Swedish auteur, Ingmar Bergman. It's a story that will seem familiar to modern cinephiles, given that it has been reworked by Woody Allen among others. Still, the original surpasses all imitators.

The movie opens in the cluttered house of an old Doctor (Victor Sjöström). He is a respected man, known for his philanthropy and august research. However, in his frail dotage he has become infantilised, demanding respect and attention from his household, including an ancient nurse. He is also plagued by nightmares about death, filmed in stark black-and-white contrast with an orchestral score that pre-dates the screeching violins of PSYCHO. (One can only wonder what horrors Bergman would have created if he had set his mind to a pure horror film, as opposed to merely depicting the real horrors of bourgeois marriage.)

The doctor has to drive back to his University town to collect an honorary degree and is accompanied by his beautiful daughter-in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Thulin. She is brutally honest about her husband's hatred of his father but as the journey progresses these two will learn a new respect for each other. They encounter a morbidly unhappy couple en route. She is a histrionic actress; he is a taunting, unfeeling man. They also encounter three young students. The girl is a blowsy, self-confident modern girl dangling the two boys on a string.

In between all this, the long journey back to Lund prompts the doctor to reconsider the decisions he has made in his life and to reminisce about his tentative love affair and rejection by his cousin Sara (Bibi Andersson).

The movie consists of beautifully-framed, brutally honest conversations. Sometimes the characters are so direct you wonder if they are really speaking or whether Bergman is dramatising an internal stream of consciousness. Either way, it's bewitching.

WILD STRAWBERRIES played Berlin, where it won the Golden Bear and the FIPRESCI prize, and Venice 1958, where it won the Italian Film Critics award. It is widely available on DVD.

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