Film / Wild Strawberries

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Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället) is a 1957 film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman.

Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström) is a 78-year-old doctor, an eminent bacteriologist, who is about to receive a doctor jubilaris award for his 50th anniversary as a medical doctor. Isak is a grouchy old man, a widower for 30 years, who is not much liked by his son Evald (who owes a debt to Isak that he's having difficulty repaying) or his daughter-in-law Marianne. Evald and Marianne are separated and Marianne has been living with Isak for nearly a month.

Isak goes on the car ride from Stockholm to Lund in the company of Marianne. They stop at his childhood summer home, now overgrown with weeds, and Isak remembers his happy summers by the lake. He remembers his cousin Sara, whom he adored, but who was attracted to his brother Sigfrid (and eventually married Sigfrid). Moving on, Isak and Marianne pick up a trio of hitchhikers, two young men and a vivacious young woman named Sara (played by Bibi Andersson, who also played the first Sara). They also pick up a married couple, but the vicious fighting between the husband and wife leads Marianne to dump them by the side of the road.

Isak, Marianne, and the hitchhikers drive on. Isak dozes off in the car and has a dream in which he sees his long-dead wife, who evidently despised him, cheating on him. Back in the car, Marianne admits to Isak that she and Evald quarreled after she revealed to Evald that she is pregnant.

Wild Strawberries was inspired by an Ingmar Bergman Eureka Moment in which he drove past his grandmother's house and wondered what it would be like to open a door that took one back into one's own childhood. It was the last film for Victor Sjöström, who had a career as an actor and director going back 40 years. For a brief time in the silent era Sjöström had been one of the leading directors in Hollywood, directing such films as He Who Gets Slapped, the 1926 version of The Scarlet Letter, and The Wind.


Tropes:

  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Sara 1 winds up picking passionate, lustful Sigfrid instead of proper, reserved Isak.
  • As You Know: Marianne is introduced by Isak seeing her and asking "Why is my daughter-in-law up at this hour?"
  • The Atoner: Isak, who apparently was cold and remote for most of his life, regrets this in his old age, and is reaching out to the people around him. He makes connections with his son and daughter-in-law and finds some contentment.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Yikes. Marianne and Evald have separated after Evald tells her he's categorically opposed to bringing a child into the world. The couple that Isak and Marianne pick up in the car argue so bitterly that Marianne puts them right back out of the car. And Isak's dream reveals that his wife couldn't stand him and happily cheated on him.
  • The Cameo: Max von Sydow has one scene as a gas station attendant.
  • Dream Sequence: Early in the film there's a rather disturbing dream when Isak dreams of the streets in his neighborhood as totally empty, until a hearse comes rolling through and has an accident and dumps out a coffin—that has him inside. Later he has a disturbing dream in which his young wife cheated on him and then talked about how much she held him in contempt.
  • Driving a Desk: Used many times in this art-house road movie.
  • Father, I Want to Marry My Brother: Isak's mother reads to him some of her children's keepsakes. One of them is a scribbled note from a daughter saying 'when I grow up I want to marry daddy'. His mother makes a comment about how sweet and innocent it was.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: A bell starts tolling in Isak's first dream right before the hearse crashes and dumps out a coffin with him in it.
  • Identical Stranger: Used for symbolism. The joyful, happy Sara that elderly Isak meets on the road, and the cousin Sara that young Isak was in love with, are played by the same actress. Sara 2.0 is involved in a love triangle with her young friends just like Sara 1 was in a love triangle with Isak and Sigfrid. Sara 2 even says to Isak as she's going away that “It’s you I really love, you know—today, tomorrow, always!”
  • Old Retainer: Agda, Isak's cranky housekeeper, who's been with him for 40 years. They have a Heterosexual Life-Partners relationship.
  • One-Eyed Shot: In his dream, Isak is being given an examination, and he's asked to look in a microscope. There's a close-up of Isak's eye, superimposed over—another close-up of his eye.
  • Releasing from the Promise: Isak has leant his son Evald a significant sum of money, which he insists that he pay back (even though Isak does not need the money, Evald cannot really afford to pay him back and Evald's wife has attempted to dissuade Isak from asking for the money back), which Evald agrees to do. At the end of the film, after Isak's spiritual journey, he attempts to tell Evald to forget about the loan, only for Evald to cut him off and insist that he'll pay him back.
  • Road Trip Plot: A relatively rare European instance of a road movie, as Isak's journey to receive his award brings him to people and places along the way that make him think about his life.
  • Smart People Play Chess: A chess set is prominently displayed in Isak's study.
  • Speak in Unison: In the flashback, Isak's youngest siblings are shown to be a pair of identical twins. They have an annoying habit of doing this.
  • Strawberry Shorthand: Here they represent the joy and hope that come with youth.
  • Title Drop: Sara 1 picks wild strawberries to give to her uncle for his birthday.
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