Wild Strawberries – dir.Ingmar Bergman, 1957

Isak Borg (Victor Sjostrom) is a curmudgeonly old man. After a long successful career in medicine, he is awarded an honorary degree from his alma mater, and takes to the road, daughter in law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin) in tow, to receive it.  On the way they stop at Isak’s childhood home. Dizzy with nostalgia, he comes across a patch of wild strawberries. Half aware of the improbability of the metaphysical experience, he is transported back to the days of his youth.  We then bear witness to several painful episodes in Isak’s life, involving the love of his life Sara (Bibi Andersson) and her obvious preference to his brother, whom she would later marry. Present also is Isak’s mother, a stern forbidding woman, whose relationship with her children mirrors Isak’s own later relationship with his son.  His son, it later transpires, is so embittered by life, that he forbids his wife to bear him a child.  The car, in which Isak and Marianne travel, is a literal and metaphoric vessel through which human-form mementoes penetrate Isak’s consciousness.  They pick up some hitchhikers, snapping Isak out of his reverie, one of them, Sara (Bibi Andersson), has not only a nominal affiliation, but also a striking and tantalising resemblance to Isak’s past Sara.  Further mirroring Isak’s story, the Sara-a-like sits in the back between two male companions, gently teasing them, both evidently in love with her. The girl serves as a human embodiment of the momento-mori.  At one point apologising for having insinuated Isak’s old age, she emanates youth, free will, and choice and by doing so illuminates the inevitability  and closeness of Isak’s death.  She sits in the back of the car, like Boadicea at her chariot, an empowered woman, with the reigns of several people’s future in her hands, who will she chose?  Years before Sara didn’t chose Isak.  As if to tantalise with this fact, on first meeting Isak, the second Sara mistakes the biblical Isaac for having married her namesake, no, Isak corrects her, unfortunately he didn’t.  The scenes are seeped in haze and mystery. In one nightmarish vision Sara runs to  an elaborate cradle, around which trees hang like ghosts, and a house appears through the thickets, wooden, stark, and fantastical.  When Marianne finally confronts Isak with the sad truth of her marital situation, we see Isak, sincerely affected and saddened by the prospect he may be somewhat to blame for his son’s unhappiness.  Bergman’s film is a gentle masterpiece at not telling one, but a lifetimes worth of stories. The man facing death must ultimately reflect back on the people and things he has, in bad faith, affected, to ultimately be awarded not just an honorary degree, but absolution.

★★★★★

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