Review by Michael Jacobson
Victor Sjostrom, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin, Gunnar Bjornstrand,
Julian Kindahl, Folke Sundquist, Max von Sydow
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Full Frame 1.33:1
Features: See Review
Length: 91 Minutes
Release Date: February 12, 2002
doctor’s first task is to ask for forgiveness.”
simply as good as filmmaking can get.
I find it to be the piece de resistance of Ingmar Bergman’s entire body
of work. Though The Seventh Seal
may remain his most famous with its unforgettable imagery and brooding
contemplation of life, death and the existence of God, Wild Strawberries takes
a more simple, direct approach to storytelling, yet manages to cover the same
existential ground in more quiet, thoughtful and less intimidating ways.
tells the tale of an elderly doctor, Isak Borg (the stunning and unforgettable
Sjostrom). He has lived his life
somewhat devoid of emotional attachment by choice…in fact, when we first see
him on screen, we’re not getting a very good look at him (but that changes
quickly), and admits that some of his choices has brought him loneliness.
He is on the eve of receiving a prestigious honorary award for his
that night, he has a strange dream (which I’ll discuss in detail further
down). Awakening the next morning,
he has a complete change of plans. Instead
of flying the 400 or so miles to his destination, he’ll take the car on what
will be both a literal and figurative journey through his youth and life.
Accompanying him to start out will be his lovely daughter-in-law Marianne
the journey begins, we start to learn about Borg through his conversations with
Marianne, starting with his relationship with his son, Evald (Bjornstrand).
“He respects me,” Borg intones.
“True,” agrees Marianne, “but he also hates you.”
Why? The pages of Borg’s
life are just beginning to turn before our eyes.
first stop along the way is his family’s old summer home.
Before his reminiscing eyes, the old house comes to life again, with all
the people from his youth. As Woody
Allen would later use in homage, Borg walks through his own memories, unable to
take part in them, but seeing them unfold in front of them as though they were
happening all over again.
see his relationship with Sara (Andersson), or at least, a side he may never
have really noticed before. Though
he was in love with her, she was being wooed aggressively by his brother (we
later learn they married and had six children).
Borg is often in the sad, helpless position of having to listen in and
learn what people really think of him. He
may have been a great professional success in the medical world, but like many
great men, his personal life was not as successful.
from his daydream by a hip young girl, also named Sara (and also played by
Andersson), Borg and Marianne pick her and her companions up as passengers in
Borg’s gigantic, hearse-like car. Both
of her young men are in love with her. One
is studying to be a minister, the other is a man of science.
As one reviewer remarked, put them together, and you have a complete
group continues on their journey, meeting up with a horrible bickering couple by
accident, meeting a more pleasant couple at a gas station in the country who
remember Borg’s early career days, stopping for Borg to visit his
amazingly-still-alive mother, and finally arriving at their destination, but not
before Borg’s sleep is interrupted by another strange dream.
This time, in a sterile, quite examining room, he finds himself stripped
of the one aspect of his life he’s always counted on…his abilities as a
journey from place to place is both physical and spiritual for Borg, and to a
lesser extent, all of his passengers. When
the doctor arrives at his pompous ceremonial of honor, it is not the end for
him. It comes later, in his sleep,
when he dreams peaceably about his past for the first time, and at long last has
a look of contentment and ease on his face.
film is an absolute masterpiece of simple allegory and deep, probing truths, and
one of the best character stories ever captured on celluloid.
Borg’s first dream, however, is a tour-de-force in its own right, and
has been discussed and analyzed many times over.
It is a dream of death, but a bit different than you might expect.
Other directors would make such a dream as dark as possible, but Bergman
takes the opposite approach, using a heavy, unrelenting glare and very little
shadow to hide in. The clocks have
no hands, as time has no meaning. A
distant bell chimes over and over again…for whom does it toll? The horse-drawn hearse snags itself on a lamppost before
breaking free by laming itself. The
coffin ejects after the straining sound that could be baby cries, and indeed,
resembles the act of birth in its jettison.
Borg sees himself in the coffin…traditionally, to see yourself in your
dream equates to your own death, but here, the imagery is compounded.
It is what sets the doctor off on his long, winding journey through
healing and reconciliation.
aspect of the film is masterful, from the casting to the impeccable script by
Bergman, to one of the most beautiful uses of black and white photography ever
captured on film. Images are not
as stark and demanding as in The Seventh Seal, but in their own ways,
more powerful, because they settle into your mind and make you think about them
long and hard after the movie ends.
trip to his ultimate professional honor goes through some of the more painful,
emotional times of his youth, and call to mind his fears, his doubts, and his
ability to confront the one great inevitable, death. Yet the majesty of it all is that this is not a heavy handed
or sad hearted picture. It is
ultimately the story of personal redemption and reconciliation, and one of the
most positive movie going experiences I have ever enjoyed…positive because it
doesn’t pluck an obligatory happy ending out of thin air, but because it works
for and earns it truthfully and totally.
scores again with another superb transfer and a nearly flawless presentation of
near fifty year old film. As
mentioned, the black and white photography is expressive and perfectly created,
and this glorious DVD captures it all with tremendous integrity, and hardly any
lapses in terms of aging artifacts! Blacks
are deep and solid, whites are bright and pure, and every image is sharply
rendered, with remarkable detail (just consider that opening shot of Isak
Borg’s library!), with no grain or compression interference of any kind.
The normal spots, dust and scratches you might expect are all but
vanquished here, leaving a clean, gorgeous and ultimately pleasurable movie
watching experience that every film lover will be eternally grateful for.
original mono Swedish soundtrack is remarkably good…most stretches of the film
are quieter and more dialogue-driven, but there are moments of sudden and strong
effects that give it dynamic range. The
track is relatively-noise free…only a few very minor instances are even
noticeable, and hardly distracting. All
in all, a very worthwhile effort.
historian Peter Cowie, who recorded the excellent commentary track for
Criterion’s release of The Seventh Seal, offers another terrific and
informative one here. His knowledge
is extensive, combining both shot-specific comments with plenty of background
information about the actors, the production, and Bergman’s life and how it
related to what we see in the film…it’s an excellent listen for serious
cinema buffs. There is also a good
90 minute documentary Ingmar Bergman on Life and Work, featuring recent
interviews with the aging but still lively director…an intimate and enjoyable
portrait of one of the 20th century’s greatest artists.
There is also a stills gallery that includes behind-the-scenes-photos.
A good package all around.