Saturday, 25 January 2014

Wild Strawberries (1957)

Pick’em while they’re ripe

Professor Isak is the unlikely leading protagonist in this charming psychosomatic tale of regret and re-evaluation.

The film opens in Professor Isak’s study; a room that echoes the great achievements of a life fervently dedicated to the study of science. An old fragile man sits decrepitly bent over his desk, a loyal and devoted dog lies lazily by his feet and soon the narrator’s voice breaks the pregnant silence.

Played by the esteemed Swedish director Victor Sjostrom, Isak is soon to receive the greatly anticipated and esteemed accolade of an honorary award, marking the zenith of his life-long career. A career that has systematically triumphed over every ounce of his own self, ensuring the demise of Isak’s social life, family and humanity.

The professor’s pre-emptive thoughts of his immediate future are suspended by the tangible reality of a premonitory dream. In the dream Isak is confronted by his own mortality, this morbid apparition sparks the fuse for his self-remorse and nostalgic journey into the depths of his past.

The film unravels like a fragmented road trip with the protagonist passing through almost-forgotten towns, picking up a couple of quirky hitch-hikers and occasionally dipping into long-forgotten memories of yesteryear. Through each nuance that is interwoven into the narrative Isak is confronted in some form by his past, a past that obstinately pervades into his present.

The intermittent moments of self-reflection depicted in the dream-like sequences are ambivalently poised so as to be neither accurate memories of days gone by nor abstract lamentations of what could have been. In fact, the whole film seems to be situated in an unravelling reverie, partly due to its content but also due to the eerie cinematography.

Directed by Ingmar Bergman, a director notorious for his confident displays of philosophical morbidity, Wild Strawberries was the film that catapulted his career onto the global stage. And it’s not difficult to see why. As well as the intriguing and likeable character of Professor Isak, his depressing recounting of those most traumatic events that dictated his future is at times genuinely heart-breaking. Not only this, but the photography is such that suspense can be drawn in an instant and our attention held at the mercy of Bergman’s directing.

The script, also written by the Swedish auteur, should not be understated. Dwelling delicately on the vicissitudes of Isak’s character Bergman carefully constructs the narrative so as to include and re-include characters that occur both in Isak’s reality as well as in his reveries. The blurring of real and un-real certainly be-speaks of a Freudian interest but the success of its realisation on film should solely be credited to Bergman. 

Encapsulating the harsh realities of a life led by pious declaration rather than impetuous sentimentalism, Wild Strawberries confronts the bitter tragedy of regret at the final moments of life’s conclusion and does so with empathetic consideration and cinematic prowess.

Josh Pomorksi       

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