Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957) is a masterful film about journeys taken. The story finds Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström), a widowed, 78-year-old doctor, traveling to accept a Doctor Jubilaris from his alma mater Lund University. But this is more than a road-trip movie as the important journey taken by Borg is his internal one.
When we meet the elderly Isak, he has withdrawn from people. He gave up his general practice to study bacteria. His relations consider him cold, but as events from his life play out before the viewer, it is no surprise he turned inward considering the way he was treated. Before he leaving Stockholm for Lund, he has a dream about being alone, lost on an empty street. A horse-drawn carriage passes by and the casket falls off. The body inside is his own.
Rather than take the train, Isak drives to Lund and is accompanied by his daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin), who has been staying with him for a month, so she can return home to her husband. As their journey begins, Isak discovers his son Evald (Gunnar Björnstrand) hates him, and Marianne feels sorry for him, which is really fueled by the strife in her own marriage. Along the way, they stop at what was his family’s summer home the first 20 years of Isak’s life, “the place where wild strawberries grow.” He reminisces about his beautiful cousin Sara (Bibi Andersson), who he was not so secretly engaged to, and daydreams about his brother Sigfrid (Per Sjöstrand) making a play for her.
On the way to Lund, people who mirror situations in both their lives join Isak and Marianne. Sara (also played by Andersson) is a young girl headed to Italy. She is traveling with two male friends that love her. Sten and Berit Alman (Gunnar Sjöberg and Gunnel Broström), a married couple, is given a brief ride after they wreck their car, but their bickering becomes unbearable.
Over the course of the film, Isak is judged throughout his life by how people see him yet rarely is that perception accurate. Although he may seem to be distant and aloof towards others, it’s understandable that has become his defense mechanism. His first true love went chose his brother because he was more exciting than Isak. In a daydream, his wife Karin (Gertrud Fridh) cheats on him and she assumes he won’t care, as if to give herself justification for her behavior, but revisiting it all these years later tells the viewer Isak did care. Evald and Marianne each suggest Isak is cruel for allowing Evald to pay back a loan he received from his father, but we never see that from him. Their own guilt is skewing their perception because he never appears concerned about it or brings it up. It’s not until stopping for gas in Lund that Isak finds someone able to say something nice about him when station owner Henrik (Max von Sydow) speaks to his generosity years ago as a local doctor. Isak’s acceptance of what has happened over his life and what little time he has left changes him for the better.
Bergman has written a captivating story and created an influential film, seen in the works of Woody Allen like Crimes and Misdemeanors and Deconstructing Harry. It’s a work that doesn’t improve with age but improves with the age of the viewer, who is able to bring more of their life to it to better appreciate it. The cast does a great job bringing the characters to life, and Gunnar Fischer’s evocative cinematography helps set the moods.
The video has been given an encoded with 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The lines notes reveal, “This new 2K digital transfer was created on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original 35mm camera negative at Chimney Pot in Stockholm. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using Image Systems’ Phoenix and the Foundry’s NUKE.” The blacks and grays are accurate, but whites can be too bright at times, which causes the image’s details to get blown out, such as seen in the exterior shots of his first dream. Otherwise, the image offers fine details and textures, such as the wrinkles in Sjöström’s face. Grain is light and grain there’s a faint bit of flicker in the end during his final close-up in his dream.
The audio is Swedish LPCM 1.0, which “was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.” Dialogue seem clear and the track creates a sense of space as people talk in other rooms, like when Isak and his housekeeper Miss Agda (Jullan Kindahl) before he leaves for Lund. The sound effect of birds sounded odd, which was a source issue. Otherwise, the track sounded free from age and wear.
The extras include an informative commentary by film scholar Peter Cowie recorded in 2001. As seen on other recent Criterion release of his films, “Introduction by Ingmar Bergman” (1080i, 4 min) finds the director interviewed by Marie Nyrerod in a screening room. He says the film is personal. The character is related to his father and written for the star Victor Sjöström. Bergman shot this silent 16 mm footage seen in “Behind the Scenes of Wild Strawberries” (1080i, 16 min), which features Jan Wengstrom, curator of archival film collections at the Swedish Film Institute, providing narration in English. Created for Swedish TV, “Ingmar Bergman on Life and Work” (1080i, 91 min) is a 1998 program is a conversation between Bergman and writer/filmmaker Jorn Donner that fans of the director should enjoy.
The Criterion Collection has given Wild Strawberries the treatment it deserves. A wise fan would accept it.