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Les Diaboliques (1955)
Wild Strawberries (1957) - European Classics
144    Dibyendu Banerjee    10/03/2024

Wild Strawberries (1957), a Swedish drama film, directed by Ingmar Bergman, is the story of one man’s remarkable voyage of self-discovery, a richly humane masterpiece, full of iconic imagery. Although the original Swedish title of the film (Smultronstället) stands for the wild strawberry patch, it signifies a hidden gem of a place, with personal or sentimental value, which is not widely known. Bergman came up with the idea of the film while driving from Stockholm to Dalarna, stopping in Uppsala, where he was born and raised.

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At that moment, it suddenly occurred to his mind that he could probably make a film about a man walking along a road in a realistic way and opens a door, which leads to his childhood, and then he opens another door to come back to reality, and after that, he makes a turn around a street corner and arrives in some other period of his existence, and everything goes on, lives. Later, Bergman wrote the screenplay while he was hospitalized for general observation and treatment for his failing health, due to recurrent gastric problems and general stress as his private life was in disarray. His third marriage was on the rocks; his affair with Bibi Andersson was coming to an end and his relationship with his parents was at low ebb. The screenplay of the film was written from the apparent failures in his own life and exploring philosophical themes like introspection, reality and human existence and the film received wide positive domestic reception upon release and was Bergman’s first commercial success Bergman in the United States.

wild strawberries
Dr Isak and Miss Agda

Wild Strawberries (1957), a master creation of Ingmar Bergman, is all about the stubborn, irritable, egotistical and widowed, seventy-eight year old Dr Isak Borg, a former medical doctor and professor, who after living a life marked by coldness, is forced to confront the emptiness of his existence. He has retreated from any human contact, partly because of his own choice and partly due to the decision of others who do not want to spend time with him because of his cold demeanour. His wife Karin has been dead for many years that made his old age rather lonely, surrounded only by the framed family pictures, except his faithful housekeeper, Miss Agda. Early in the morning before his journey to accept an honorary degree from his former university in Lund, Isak experienced a surrealistic and nightmarish dream sequence on a deserted city street with images of death.

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He dreamt that he lost his way in an empty street with ruined houses, where he looked up and saw a clock without hands hanging above a pair of eyes, encountered a faceless collapsed figure on the pavement with blood streaming out, a wooden coffin crashed to the ground from a driverless hearse pulled by horses and to his utmost horror, as he looked at the coffin, he saw his own corpse that was grasping for him.

wild strawberries
wild strawberries

Dr Isak Borg awakened early in the morning, decides to take a long drive from Stockholm to Lund, instead of flying as was the original plan, to accept an honorary degree, accompanied by his pregnant daughter-in-law Marianne who does not much like her father-in-law and is planning to separate from her husband, middle-aged physician Evald, the only son of Dr Isak Borg, who does not want her to have the baby. Nevertheless, during the long journey, he meets a series of hitchhikers, in a series of episodic sequences, each of whom make him reminisce about various parts of his troubled past, his childhood summer home, his equally emotionally cold mother and is forced by a series of surrealistic flashbacks to reevaluate several key moments in his life, their significance to him and comes to terms with his faults and makes peace with the inevitability of his approaching death.

wild strawberries
Marianne and Isak

Initially it seemed that Marianne, the pregnant daughter-in-law of Dr Borg asked to ride with her father-in-law out of pity and generosity, but eventually it revealed to be more complicated, when she clearly mentioned his selfish, egotistical and uncaring nature, his apathetic, cold and old-fashioned attitudes. She also bluntly blamed Borg for the potential dissolution of her marriage.

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However, Borg’s reaction to Marianne’s allegation is its boldest stroke of originality and instead of lashing out with an offended pride, he regards her with pity and bemusement, creating a wonderful sequence in the film.

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Isak in the wild strawberry patch
wild strawberries
Sara and Isak in the wild strawberry patch

Their first stop in the journey was his family summer home, the location of the titled wild strawberry patch, where he lived for the first 20 years of his life with nine other siblings and it triggered his long-lost loving memories of his cousin Sara, who broke his heart when she later married Isak's irresponsible, misbehaving, worthless brother Sigfrid and had 6 children. While at the summer house, they met a group of three young hitchhikers, comprising two young men Viktor and Anders and a sweet girl, also named Sara, a double for the love of Isak's youth, caught between two lovers who were competing for her love. The group, which accompanied them throughout the journey, reminds Isak of his childhood at the seaside and his sweetheart Sara, with whom he remembered gathering strawberries.

wild strawberries

After resuming their journey, Isak and Marianne picked up a second group of travellers, an embittered and argumentative middle-aged couple, whose vehicle had nearly collided with theirs. But within no time the toxic but co-dependent couple, the actress-wife Berit Alman and her obnoxious, degrading husband Sten Alman; became so disagreeable that Marianne bluntly asked them to get out of the vehicle. However, the couple represented Isak's own failed marriage, as well as the marriage of Marianne and her husband, Isak's son Evald, whose marriage is as strained as was his own. As if in a trance or in a dream sequence Isak is asked by Sten Alman, appearing as the examiner, to read several foreign letters on the blackboard, which Isak could not and Alman informed him that the letters stand for a doctor's first duty is to ask forgiveness and concluded that Isak is guilty of the guilt.

wild strawberries

Along the way, they then stopped at a gas station, where the husband-wife owners, Henrik and Eva Åkerman, fondly recalled Isak's kindness and generosity to them years earlier when he lived in the area, praised him profusely as a man for his work, even denied gas payment from him. Their sincere attitude made Isak to think that probably he should not have left the place, while Marianne was so impressed and moved by their kind words that she brought a smile to her face. After that, following a brief stop for lunch, Marianne and Isak arrived at the home of Mrs Borg, the 96 year-old cold-hearted mother of Isak. She showed Isak, her only surviving son of ten children, a box of mementos, which include an old discarded dolls and toys, her husband's gold pocket watch with no hands and also hinted about why people perceived her son as cold-hearted; even openly admitting that she felt herself cold all through her life.

wild strawberries
Marianne and Isak with his elderly mother

After visiting Isak's lonely mother, the sad Marianne reacted to Isak's emotional detachment with fears for her own pregnancy and her future life with Evald. She felt that there are light-years between the old woman, cold as ice, more forbidding than death and her son, who confesses that he is a living corpse. She also felt that Evald is also growing just as lonely, cold and dead. All along the line, there is nothing but cold, loneliness and death. Marianne thought of the baby inside her womb and vowed to Isak that she would have the child to end the line of cold loneliness.

wild strawberries
Isak’s final dream with his cousin Sara

During the last lap of the trip, Isak dreamt of being with Sara again in the strawberry patch, as she held up a mirror to his face to show that he looks like a worried old man who is going to die soon, while she has all her life left before her. She then urged him to smile about her marriage to Sigfrid, but he admitted that it hurts him. She then ended the conversation by telling him that he knows so much, but he does not know anything. While napping, Isak was also forced to face his past, remembering that his deceased wife Karin was very unhappy in their marriage and she despised him as he was cold as ice callous and passive detachment from her and life and was forced to rewatch her having sex with another lover in an outdoor setting in 1917.

wild strawberries

However, after Isak was awarded a degree at the ceremony, the film concluded with some elements of hope, as Isak appeared to come closer to his daughter-in-law and her husband Evald, cancelling Evald's long-standing enormous debt to him and helping them to bring together and reconcile their marriage. Apart from that Isak experienced once more his childhood dream, his last uplifting dream of a family picnic by a lake at his summer home, in which Sara ran up to him and telling him that there are no wild strawberries left, which would no longer torment him, but would calm him, providing moments of pleasant nostalgia.

wild strawberries

Wild Strawberries is a transcendent depiction of a man coming to terms with the disappointment and loneliness in his life and eventually finding a kind of bliss and satisfaction through introspection. However, one of the prime reasons is what can only be described as the transcendent performance of Victor Sjostrom as Professor Borg, who died aged 80, not long after the film was completed. He was Bergman's silent film idol and the director's immediate choice for the leading role, who later stated that White Strawberries was no longer his film, it was Victor Sjöström’s. Among the other actors, Ingrid Thulin appeared as Marianne Borg and Bibi Andersson portrayed the role of Sara, both as Isak's cousin and the hitchhiker. The film, often considered to be Bergman's greatest and most moving film, received wide positive domestic reception upon release, won the Golden Bear for Best Film at the 8th Berlin International Film Festival, won the Pasinetti Award at the 1958 Venice Film Festival and is considered as one of the greatest films ever made.

Les Diaboliques (1955)
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Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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