Starring: Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Running Time: 91 mins
Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället) is a Swedish film about an ageing professor who, while on a journey to receive a lifetime award, confronts his past and own existence.
Blissfully simple and powerfully insightful, Wild Strawberries is a deeply touching story of a lifetime, portrayed in unique and arresting fashion by legendary director Ingmar Bergman. It’s a thematically rich and challenging watch, but floats along with a surprisingly light, pleasant tone, unfolding as a wonderful and moving tale with a lot of serious things to say.
Ingmar Bergman’s filmography is without doubt one of the more daunting cinematic collections out there, but Wild Strawberries really stands out as emulating the director’s unique capacity for existential reflection, yet is entirely accessible for even Bergman novices like myself.
The film touches on a wide range of themes from nostalgia to regret, and from ageing to the human life cycle, but while they may seem like daunting prospects to stomach in such a short film, the way Wild Strawberries grabs hold of you and those key ideas is nothing short of remarkable.
The main premise is simple. An ageing professor travels across Sweden to receive a lifetime achievement award, and on the way he retreads important places in his life, as well as encounters people who remind him of his past.
On the surface, the film’s story about a journey is wonderfully pleasant, and has an enjoyably fluffy, sing-songy kind of rhythm that makes it a joy to watch. If you go deeper, though, the story really opens up with a powerfully reflective look at life itself.
From the very first moments of the film that give the professor a stark confrontation with the emptiness of his life past, Wild Strawberries repeatedly touches on familiar themes of reflection, but brings a unique perspective that encompasses both the personal thoughts of our main character, as well as the relation of his life experiences with humanity as a whole.
The professor’s own story is both touching and heartbreaking, while the film’s wider link into the human life cycle (borne out most clearly by the different generations of people who travel with the professor), is particularly captivating, as it brings in his sense of nostalgia with a more morbid realisation of the end of his life.
Couple all of those riveting reflections on life with Bergman’s striking style – using abstract imagery to conjure the very essence of dreaming and memory – and Wild Strawberries really is a magnetic, powerful and genuinely wonderful film. Thematically rich all the way through and not in the slightest bit overwhelming, Wild Strawberries is by far one of the legendary director’s best works, and that’s why I’m giving it an 8.4 overall.