Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957)

Well, now I know where Woody Allen got his idea for the present-meets-flashback dinner scene in “Crimes and Misdemeanors”…and the general premise of an older man going on a roadtrip to receive an award and reliving his past along the way from “Deconstructing Harry.”  But other than noticing how much inspiration Woody Allen got from his famed idol Bergman, “Wild Strawberries” did nothing for me.  That flashback structure, in which Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) literally steps into and observes his past involving a former love (the IMPOSSIBLY beautiful Bibi Andersson) as if it were the holodeck from Star Trek or something, is kinda nifty, but those flashbacks, as well as Isak’s dreams, are also filled with obvious, heavy-handed imagery and symbolism (stuff like handless clocks and a man with a scrunched-up dummy face are unsettling, sure, but c’mon Bergman, some subtlety, please!) that took me right out of the relative verisimilitude of Isak’s physical and spiritual journey.  I was actually surprised at how ‘realistic’ the journey from Stockholm to Lund University, and the film’s dialogue overall, was, especially compared to the unfathomably verbose and overly-philosophical dialogue of films like “The Seventh Seal” and “Cries and Whispers.”  Realistic, but dull.  I had little emotional involvement in watching Isak watch his younger self and family eat dinner and discuss…stuff, I had little emotional involvement watching Isak connect with his daughter-in-law and the young girl and her boyfriends who accompany him on the long car ride (the young girl reminding him of his youth), and I had little emotional involvement in what should’ve been the emotional crux of the entire film, as a now somewhat-enlightened Isak tries to connect with his son, just as cold and aloof as Isak’s been all these years.  It should’ve been wonderful to watch Isak slowly learn to love life, and then tragic to find out that his son is exactly the man that Isak was at the beginning of the film, but frankly, I can’t remember a word of what they said to each other.  Something just got lost in translation, whether it’s uninteresting dialogue or uneven story structure or what have you.  I can’t really put a finger on it, but for some reason I just wasn’t really interested.  I gotta admit, it’s only been 12 or so hours since I watched this film, but I’m having a damn hard time remembering how it ended.

This journey between Stockholm and Lund, between past and present is supposed to be an enlightening one for Isak, but why should I buy into that?  Alright, so there’s parallels between young Sara and the girl Isak loved so many years before; is that supposed to be profound?  It’s a Bergman film, and any given Bergman film pretty much thinks it has a god-given right to be the profoundest thing on the face of the earth, but…eh.  Even with some semi-goofy goings-on on the road trip like a near collision with a bizarre couple, and Sara’s boyfriends arguing about – what else – the existence of God, both that road trip and the flashbacks were just boring, and banal.  I didn’t feel like there was anything at stake.  I guess Victor Sjöström gives a very good performance, but he’s an interesting-looking old man.  All he has to do is frown and mope and look at the camera with puppy-dog eyes and he’s a lock for a ‘good performance.’  Its technical qualities and deliberate and unhurried pace are more or less excellent, even though Sven Nykvist wasn’t around yet.  However, you can try disguising the rancidness of rotting meat with A-1 Sauce, but rotting meat is still rotting meat. 

Funny that I criticized a film like “Cries and Whispers” for being too wordy and philosophical, shoving Bergman’s favorite theme, the silence of God, down your throat, while this film is very nearly the polar opposite, focusing much more on the psychological issues of one man rather than the all-encompassing issues of faith and what-not, with more natural dialogue (though still with that Bergman-esque knack of wordiness), and I thought it was too dull, with not enough at stake.  Guess Bergman just needs to find the middle ground.



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