by Allan Fish
(Sweden 1957 93m) DVD1/2
1957: A Human Odyssey
p Allan Ekelund d/w Ingmar Bergman ph Gunnar Fischer, Bjorn Thermenius ed Eric Rosander m Erik Nordgren art Gittan Gustaffson
Victor Sjöstrom (Prof.Isak Borg), Ingrid Thulin (Marianne Borg), Bibi Andersson (Sara), Naima Wifstrand (Isak’s mother), Gunnar Björnstrand (Evald Borg), Julian Kindahl (Agda), Folke Sundquist (Anders), Björn Bjelvenstam (Viktor), Gunnel Bröstrom (Berit Almann), Gertrud Fridh (Isak’s wife), Max Von Sydow (Petrol attendant),
So what does Bergman have to do with Kubrick? Superficially, not much, but there are undoubted subliminal similarities. Both Bergman’s fifties masterpiece and Kubrick’s sci-fi paragon question where we come from, where we go to, and the very notion of death. Like in many Bergman films, dreams play a large part, at times uncannily drifting between reality and the subconscious. Yet we are never made to feel disoriented by Bergman’s approach. It may have its roots in the vast landscape of the human memory, but it’s easy to empathise with both the elderly hero and Bergman himself.
Isak Borg is a 78 year old retired professor who is on his way to Lund cathedral to receive an honorary degree for his services to science. His companion for the journey is his beautiful daughter-in-law, Marianne, and on the way he recounts not only how his life has lead him to this point, but how it might have been different. Along the way, he gives a lift to a young girl, her intended and a chaperone (who also has feelings for the girl). Borg’s memories once more rekindled by the uncanny resemblance between the girl and the cousin he once loved.
The title refers to the fruits that grew nearby the summer house he stayed at as a young man, but in reality the wild strawberries of the title are a euphemism for any odour or image that instantly recalls us to our youth, be it the smell of a favourite food, a girl’s smile or merely sunlight cascading on a nearby lake. Indeed, Bergman – and, for that matter, Fischer’s camera – is in love with many things; the tranquillity of the countryside, the serene beauty of Ingrid Thulin, the very notion of youthful exuberance, and indeed the preservation qualities of the camera itself. Of all the cinematic tricks, however, it’s one that sticks in the mind; an early nightmarish vision experienced by the doctor one night. He finds himself alone on a deserted street, only to notice that all the windows are boarded up and both his watch and a nearby clock have no hands, as if time itself has stopped. He notices another man, who turns to reveal he has no face and he is then confronted by a hearse, which not only proceeds to crash, but to leave its coffin in the street. Opening it, he finds himself in the coffin. In truth, it’s a homage, not only to the surrealists, but to Dreyer’s earlier Vampyr, a film long cherished in Scandinavian and film memory. It also serves as a presentiment of the future, when his nonagenarian mother presents him with a watch with no hands as a gift.
More than anything, however, Strawberries is about people. Indeed, the first few words spoken in the film, by Sjöstrom from his writing desk, are “in our relations with other people…” We are then shown photos of his family, both alive and dead, like a shrine to his own life. Central to this emotion are the performances and, though Andersson and, particularly, Thulin, impress as the women on his odyssey, it’s the effortlessly magisterial Sjöstrom who haunts the viewer like the dreams that haunted him. Here is the first great man of the Scandinavian cinema, forever deified by this one performance in his twilight years. Not only is it Bergman’s thank you for his earlier contribution (especially, I would think, The Phantom Carriage), but a bouquet of a role handed to him by Bergman on behalf of the grateful audiences of the world. The wild strawberries of his memory may be his memory alone, but we all have our own wild strawberries, both painful and joyful to recollect. When Andersson asks him to smile, and Sjöstrom can only shed a tear and murmur “it hurts so“, it would take a man of stone not to feel his sorrow.