It’s fashionable now to dismiss Ingmar Bergman as an antique, which he certainly is not, or to remember him for one film only, Persona (1966), which is undoubtedly a masterpiece, but his earlier films, such as the often-parodied The Seventh Seal or the measured, reverential Wild Strawberries (both 1957), are superb examples of personal filmmaking, made possible by Bergman’s long-running arrangement with the Swedish national film company, Svensk Filmindustri, which allowed him to spend the cold winters in Stockholm directing a play, only to emerge every Spring to shoot a new film.
Woody Allen, in particular, is a longtime admirer of Bergman’s, and has remade, after a fashion, several of his films, but all I really want to do here is to call your attention to Wild Strawberries, in particular — remade by Allen as Deconstructing Harry (1997), the tale of an elderly professor emeritus, Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström), who travels from his home to his former university to accept an honorary degree for his lifetime of work.
Though the Wild Strawberries starts with a horrific nightmare that Isak endures the night before he is to accept the award (see the clip above), the film concentrates mostly on the often-fractious relationships between Borg and his daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin), who is unhappily married to Isak’s son Evald (Gunnar Björnstrand).
Nothing much happens, but then again everything happens, and the film ends on a note of redemptive hope, as the visions of Isak’s youth return to him as if in a dream, to comfort and reassure him, as he faces his inevitable death — indeed, actor/director Victor Sjöström, one of the veterans of the Swedish film industry, died shortly after the film’s completion, and before a rough cut could be assembled.
In the midst of life, we have to accept our faults and failures, and keep moving on towards the light, guided by the past, as we move inexorably into the future with each passing moment. Wild Strawberries is a sublime film, and is earnestly recommended, whether you’ve seen it or not. It certainly repays repeated viewings.