The Film (5/5)
About 8 years ago while wrapping up film school, I became enamored by the work of the Swedish master Ingmar Bergman. Most people at the time told me the best place to start with his work would be his very famous, and oft-referenced The Seventh Seal. However, having enough funds left on a Borders gift card I took the plunge on the Criterion Box Set of his "Silence of God" Trilogy. I was told that these films were a difficult place to start because of their themes, writing, and the fact that as chamber dramas they only had a limited number of cast and locations. Regardless, I found myself immediately lured into Bergman's cinematic world, and made it a goal to see as many of his films as I could in as short a time as I could.
I came to Wild Strawberries in another Criterion box set entitled 4 Masterworks which included The Seventh Seal, The Virgin Spring, and Smiles of a Summer Night. Out of all 4 films in the box it was the one I was most taken with, for while the Seventh Seal had the most familiar imagery, and was probably the closest thing to the horror and cult films I had grown up with, and Virgin Spring's plot had been ripped off by Wes Craven's debut Last House on the Left which I had seen many times by that point. It was Wild Strawberries which took me on a metaphysical and philosophical roller coaster ride, and left it's indelible imprint on my mind for weeks after.
The film stars Phantom Carriage director Victor Sjostrom as Isak Borg. A University Professor who after a lifetime of service, is going to receive an award acknowledging those contributions. He decides the morning of the ceremony to skip taking the flight, and to drive up to the ceremony with his daughter in law, Marianne, in tow. The two traverse the Swedish Countryside visiting various locales familiar to Isak from his past from his childhood summer home, to a town he once lived in. Along the way the two reminisce about the past, discuss life, and meet up with a variety of interesting folks as they go along on their journey.
Bergman seemingly took the template of the road trip film, but injected it with a wonderful sense of drama, surrealism, and philosophical concern. From the opening dream sequence, which maybe one of the most haunting moments in Bergman's oeuvre, in which Isak wandering around a barren downtown area is disrupted by a crashing coffin containing his own body. We understand that this is a man who is at odds with his own mortality. Throughout the film from the present day discussions with everyone from his daughter in law to a trio of hitchhikers to the various interactions with other relations. All the way through to the reflections we see of his past Bergman through Sjostrom paints a picture of a man who is unsettled by his past, and is unsure about his future.
The film is anchored by a wonderful cast who feel at home within their respective roles. Victor Sjostrom who was known primarily as a director in Sweden's silent era especially brings a strong performance to the role of Isak. He plays the role with the versatility and fragility the role requires, and is a fantastically compelling performance throughout the film. Also, we have wonderful performances from Ingrid Thulin as Marianne, and Bergman regular Bibi Anderson.
Bergman's work from the 50's through the 80's is filled with so much sheer excellence it's hard to find a true "Golden Period," but his late 50's work could very well be considered his greatest. Wild Strawberries came during a period of particularly great films, and in fact was released in Sweden the very same year as The Seventh Seal, and in a way makes an excellent companion to that film. It is a wonderfully dramatic, entertaining, surrealistic, and deeply philosophical film that although it deals with issues of age and death can and should be enjoyed by all ages.
It is probably no shock to report that the Criterion Blu-ray of Wild Strawberries is an outstandingly gorgeous transfer from Criterion, and the best the film has ever looked on an home release format. Criterion brings the film to Blu-ray in a splendid 1080p MPEG4 AVC encoded transfer that preserves the films original 1:33:1 aspect ratio. The level of detail is vastly improved from prior editions of the film, contrast is very strong throughout the film, and there is a nice and stable organic grain structure at play.
There is only one audio option a Swedish LPCM 1.0 track. The track is quite suitable for the film. The dialogue comes through nice and crisp and does the films score. I did not detect any audio issue such as pops, cracks , or hissing on the track.
Criterion has put together a nice slate of extras for their release of Wild Strawberries. I believe most of , if not all of these have been ported over from the prior edition. The disc kicks off with a 4 minute introduction to the film by Bergman himself. We then get a feature length commentary track by film scholar Peter Cowie. This is followed by 17 minutes of silent footage that show the behind the scenes aspects of Wild Strawberries. The most substantial extra on the set is a 91 minute documentary called The Life and Work of Ingmar Bergman made in 1998 for Swedish Television, and is essentially a feature length interview with the master himself. The set also includes a booklet of liner notes about the film.
In a career of many masterpieces Wild Strawberries may still stand apart as one of Ingmar Bergman's finest films. Criterion brings Wild Strawberries to Blu-ray in a fine HD restoration bringing the film to home release in a way it has never looked before. The extras are elaborate and informative, and a boon to any fan of the film or Bergman in general. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.