1957Director / Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman
Wild Strawberries is constructed around dream sequences (notably the nightmare at the beginning) and flashbacks and is, in addition to a voyage through modern Sweden, a voyage through time, the past, and the unconscious. An old man approaching death (this was the last role of the great Victor Sjöström) takes stock of his life and its failings and is confronted by those who loved him, admired him for his contribution to science, and those who detested him as an inhuman, self-centred idiot. Sara, in the present, brings him back to the human simplicity of his youth and the time of wild strawberries and gives him a new sense of serenity. This is the best Bergman film of the fifties, much closer to a true philosophical tragedy than his more ambitious The Seventh Seal.
- Georges Sadoul, Dictionary of Films
Possibly Ingmar Bergman's finest film and a staple of film history, Wild Strawberries not only exemplifies one of Sweden's greatest director's greatest works, but the importance of a superb performance as well. Victor Sjöström stars as Isak Borg, a medical professor on his way to accept an honorary degree on the 50th anniversary of his graduation from the University at Lund. He rides with his daughter-in-law, Marianne, who has decided to leave her husband. Animosity exists between the opinionated Isak (as she sees him) and Marianne, mainly because the old man reminds her so much of her husband. En route, they stop at Isak's childhood house, where he recalls his family in the days of his youth (although he is unseen by the characters and not present in the flashbeck). He sees his sweetheart, Sara, picking wild strawberries and carrying on semi-innocently with his brother. Later he is awakened (in the present) by a teenaged girl named Sara. She asks the old man for a ride, bringing along two male friends. This foray proves less than ideal, hampered by a car crash and Isak's disturbing nightmares.
A fascinating, compelling picture, Wild Strawberries is viewed by many as Bergman's greatest achievement. Its most striking segment, which perhaps best illustrates Bergman's talents, is a dream sequence in which Isak walks through a desolate city, is approached by a faceless man, sees a clock without hands, and watches a funeral wagon crash and leave a coffin in the middle of the street. As he nears the coffin, it opens, and the corpse - Isak - emerges and attempts to pull him into the afterlife. The visual and aural symbolism is chilling, and the entire scene is perfectly integrated into the 'reality' of the rest of the picture. Sjöström, in his final film, delivers the finest performance in any Bergman film - a major accomplishment considering the virtuosity that Bergman's actors consistently display.
- The Third Virgin Film Guide, London, 1994
There is much in this film that is extraordinarily beautiful. The dream sequence at the beginning is a blend of Caligari and Kafka. The old man's reminiscences of his youth at the country place are done with a warm sense of family fun that makes one yearn to have been part of it. Bergman's touch in establishing period feeling is swift and sure - we see a young man seated in a tree reading a book, dressed in white trousers, white shirt, tie and straw boater, and we know at once where we are. He has a gift for eccentric characterisations, like the neurotic couple to whom the doctor gives a lift who shortly cram the interior of the car with their almost palpable unhappiness. And his basic concept - a day's ride, a life's journey - is a sound one.
This notice would be unfinished without mention of the excellent performance in the leading role of Victor Sjöström, who as Seastrom directed in Hollywood from 1923 to 1931 and has since been acting in Sweden. Some old actors' faces have an odd childlike purity; it radiates from Sjöström. Of his many moving scenes one moment stands out particularly. In a dream sequence, his parents, as they were when he was a child, are sitting on a rock while Father fishes. They see him, as he was then, and wave to him. We see the old man as he is now, and with all the sadness of time past and passing, his eyes fill at the sight of them. It is lovely.
- Stanley Kaufmann, A World on Film, New York, 1966
I began to write, and then I thought: who the devil can do this? And then it struck me that Victor would be best. So Carl-Anders Dymling had a word with him and asked whether I could speak to him about it. Victor was feeling wretched and didn't want to... I fancy he must have been seventy-eight. He was misanthropic and tired and felt old. So Carl-Anders had said to him: "All you've got to do is lie down under a tree and munch strawberries and think of your own past, so it won't exactly be hard work." Afterwards, when Victor had taken a look at the script, he wanted to back out. I had to use all my powers of persuasion to get him to play the part.
The first day we worked together Victor was in a vile temper. He said: "I don't want to do this, I don't think you're right." We fell out. I wanted him to do certain things he didn't want to do; or, to be more exact, I wanted him not to do certain things he wanted to... He was all tensed up and wanted to do a lot of things - I didn't want him to do anything at all. But after that he was wonderful to work with, ever so simple, sincere and fierce... As long as Victor got home at a quarter past five each day and had his whiskey punctually, all went well.
- Ingmar Bergman, Bergman on Bergman, New York, 1973