Smultronstället (Wild Strawberries)

In a still from Smultronstället, the spider sees himself in the mirror, Victor Sjöström the father of Swedish silent cinema and former doughnut salesman, playing an aging, ailing doctor—Professor Isak Borg.

Bergman casts his hero using his own Achilles heel, unable to reconcile experience and nostalgia (a filmmakers dilemma). The experiential nature of lying down next to a patch of wild strawberries can’t compete with the murky hallucinations of a narcissist past his prime. It's not surprising that the screenplay was written while Bergman was in the hospital and in the midst of battling wild skeletons, in the form of familial ordeals and generational misunderstandings.

Like the character he plays, "In his professional life, [Sjöström] was a workaholic, and in his private life, [he] was reticent about his films and his fame…"

I agree with Judy Block when she says, “Interestingly, the film’s Dali/Kafkaesque dream sequences have proved less memorable than the scenes in which natural settings are brilliantly transformed into dreamscapes by virtue of their flashback context.” The expressionistic silent-film inspired shots in Wild Strawberries are theatrical and compelling in a campy Twilight Zone kind of way, and don't hold up over time as well as the more realistic flashback scenes, which may be more universally appealing.

On the road from Stockholm to Lund, Bergman sets up poignant dichotomies between the young and the aged; offspring and breeders; soft grass and starched tablecloths; happy-go-lucky hitchhikers and squabbling car wreckers; excitement and regret.

One's relationship to God is also expressed in a similar fashion as a conflict between experience and nostalgia among those who would rather sing a religious song or poem than answer a question about atheism; those who would throw punches over the idea of faith; and those who prefer to stay out of the conflict entirely, posturing self-satisfied cheek turning.

Being a visual artist first, and a film-lover second, I often think of artists or works I admire while taking notes about cinematic experience. I would like to watch this film while sitting next to the artist Louise Bourgeois. I can't help but think of her as a child, restoring ancient tapestries, assisting the weavers employed by her family, later going on to sculpt her spiders (the largest entitled Maman), enjoying this film. Maman and Wild Strawberries both spin fragile threads that are woven and broken between parents and children, as time passes.

Another completely random thought—the only song I know in Swedish is a Swedish language version of Itsy Bitsy spider. I've had spiders on my mind throughout the viewing of this film, even though Bergman's reference to God as a spider does not occur in Wild Strawberries.

The Ingmar Bergman foundation also notes that: "The influences of August Strindberg - widespread in Bergman - are immediately apparent. Strindberg's introduction to A Dream Play (which is later quoted openly in Fanny and Alexander) might also appear to be the credo of Wild Strawberries: "Time and space do not exist. Upon an insignificant background of real life events, the imagination spins and weaves new patterns; a blend of memories, experiences, pure inventions, absurdities and improvisations."

Wild Strawberries screened as part of the series, Ingmar Bergman: Light and Shadow at the PFA on Dec 6, 2007


Michael (http://mss.typepad.com) said...

Sister Rye, many thanks for posting about Wild Strawberries -- you've made me want to see it. Bergman's reference to God as a spider appears in Through a Glass Darkly, and I like how you work it in here, particularly given your comments about how Bergman conveys one's relationship to God in Wild Strawberries. There's such an enervating quality to religious struggle in Bergman's films. And those dichotomies you mention -- perhaps all seemingly part of the dualistic universe, or dualistic experience, that Bergman was so interested in -- whether spiritual, emotional, physical, etc.

I've never seen a Bergman film on a big screen. I suspect the stark imagery is all the more overpowering.

SisterRye said...

Yes, it is. But, not like the imagery of Antonioni—not as stark, and not as overpowering.