It’s time for another trip to the surreal with Ingmar Bergman!
Written By: Ingmar Bergman
Directed By: Ingmar Bergman
Love is at the heart of Smultronstället, or more accurately, the lack of love and eventual discovery of love. Every Bergman film I have seen has been about questioning, not in order to discover anything per say, but to question why we are here, why the universe functions as it does, what is above us, what is ahead of us, and more. Smultronstället asks questions, but it asks these questions in the mode of self discovery. The character of Dr. Isak Borg is on a journey of self-discovery, one that can only come about when the person in question is near the end of their road and has no choice but to face up to the life they have led and whether or not it gave them any sort of fulfillment.
Bergman uses dreams and similar characters as the focal points for Borg’s self-discovery. Borg sets off with daughter-in-law Marianne on a journey to receive an honorific for his career as some sort of doctor. On this journey he meets people who remind him of various stages of his life and start him off on dream sequences that help his inner journey towards the destination of love and happiness. This is prefaced by a nightmare dream that shows Borg’s own desolate funeral procession and this haunting image is the impetus for his decision to trek across Sweden in a car to receive his award in lieu of the preplanned air travel. The dreams and familiar characters drive Borg, making him realize how misbegotten his life was, how cold of an individual he is and how he has chosen to be this way because it was passed on to him as a sort of family trait. This is important because it is possibly the biggest factor in his final reconciliation, he realizes he doesn’t want his son, daughter-in-law and future grandchild to end up the same way. So he reaches out to his son and is slightly rebuked. But, this is followed by a touching moment of sincere emotion with Marianne that leaves Borg laying content with a smile on his face as he can finally drift off ta a happy dream. For the first time in his life, Borg is happy on the both the outside and the inside.
Victor Sjöström is genial and endearing as Borg. Perhaps the only real flaw in the entire film is that even when Sjöström is supposed to be cold and icy he still retains some warmness in his personage. For me this wasn’t a problem because I viewed it as the inner warmth cracking the outer icy shell every once in a while. But, for people who didn’t read it as such I could see that warmth being a slight problem. Sjöström is the focal point of the film, he carries himself well and is always up to the task for whatever the film requires of him. Ingrid Thulin is also quite charming as Marianne while Bibi Andersson is full of life as present day Sara and full of dread and worry as past Sara.
Bergman manages to keep Smultronstället abundant with his usual surreal touches. The dream sequences are full of symbolism and are bathed in said surrealism, but not to the levels of his other works such as Det Sjunde Inseglet that directly preceded Smultronstället. There is a bit of an obviousness to the approach Bergman uses, at least once you begin to put the pieces together that is. In that respect Bergman has ensured that the focus in Smultronstället is on Borg’s journey and not on the surreal imagery or flashback narrative style.
I am a fan of all the Bergman work I have seen, but Smultronstället is the best of the lot. Fanny Och Alexander is my favorite, but Smultronstället has the right blend of Bergman surrealism and heart that gets me every time. This film is talked up for a reason, so when someone tells you to go and see Smultronstället, or Wild Strawberries since they won’t be a dick and use the literal title like I do, listen to them, because you don’t want to wait until you are near death to discover this film.