May 31, 2006
Wild Strawberries (1957)
Grade: 57/100

Director: Ingmar Bergman
Stars: Victor Sjostrom, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin

What it's about. 78-year-old doctor Isak (Victor Sjostrom) is to receive an honorary degree from a prestigious Swedish university. He is alert enough to undertake an eventful road trip with his smoldering hot daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin), yet he also dreams and daydreams about his young adulthood, which he apparently spent courting immature and sheltered hottie Sara (Bibi Andersson). Sara was the one that got away, instead marrying Isak's irresponsible brother Sigfrid (Per Sjostrand). Oh well.

How others will see it. The audience for this movie is limited to those who enjoy Janus films. Janus was a long-time distributor of artsy foreign films in the United States. With their logo bookending their distributions, they became associated with the prestige films of Europe and Japan prior to the complete breakdown of the Hollywood production code.

So, if you've never heard of Janus, you'll likely glance at this subtitled black and white Swedish movie and promptly change the channel. The intellectual film audience, though, will cherish Wild Strawberries as the mature alternative to the more formulaic efforts of Hollywood. It's nostalgic and sometimes bittersweet, but it ends on a better note than could be expected. There's no Death dancing off with the Knight and other Black Plague victims, as in The Seventh Seal. The Knight (Max von Sydow) has a bit part here as a gas station owner.

How I felt about it. Bergman isn't that unconventional a filmmaker. For example, there's no shortage of attractive young women. There are comic moments, such as the simpleton deaf uncle with a phonograph amplifier as a hearing aid, two pre-teenage twins who delight in tattling and still seem joined as the waist, Sara II's squabbling beatnik boyfriends, etc. And, as in any Hollywood movie, there are unnecessary dramatic moments, such as a car crash, and a dream about the fear of death featuring clocks with no hands.

But it is un-Hollywood-like to have a 78-year-old as the leading man. And God bless him, he never makes the slightest pass at the vastly younger girls. Fortunately for marketing purposes, the number two character in the film is Ingrid Thulin, a striking beauty. So, a character exists for young audiences to focus upon.

It is odd that Isak's memories rarely concern his late wife, Karen, presumably because their marriage was unhappy. It is much more pleasing to remember Sara I, an innocent who cries because she loves two men. The mild-mannered don't win the fair prize, unless they are a target, and Isak knows this as well as anyone.

What is the purpose of bringing briefly into the story the unpleasant middle-aged couple, Gunnel Brostrom and Gunnar Sjoberg? Their discordant bantering and insults is disliked by all, to the point where Marianne throws them out of "her" car. Do they represent Bergman's idea of a lousy marriage, the couple that stays together despite mutual contempt and exasperation? The obnoxious Alman is a character completely out of place in Sweden, where people are expected to show empathy for others.