Film Review: ‘Wild Strawberries’

Wild Strawberries

This film, shown at the Edinburgh and London Film Festivals, and now showing, at the Academy cinema, was made by Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish director who has already created a considerable reputation with his earlier films, Sawdust and Tinsel, Smiles of a Summer Night and The Seventh Seal.

Although Bergman has again attempted to reveal the mainsprings of human motives and emotions and made free use of mystical symbols, he has in this film presented his ideas in a much clearer and comprehensible form.

The story is simple. An old doctor, his cold, unhappy life drawing to its close, is tormented by guilt-ridden dreams which, in his own words, “try to tell me things which I cannot admit to myself while I am awake.” The dreams tell him that he is hard and egotistical, and without kindness and compassion.

Accompanied by his daughter-in-law, he journeys by car to the town where he is to receive his jubilee doctorate, and on the way gives a lift to two adolescent boys and a young girl, who represent the unfulfilled hopes of his childhood. He also picks up a married couple, who, as in his own marriage, dislike each other intensely, and spend their time quarrelling and inflicting verbal cruelties upon each other.

Through these dreams and experiences, and also because of his natural fear of loneliness and death, the old man learns the importance of human relationships, and brings belated warmth into his associations with other people.

With this simple theme, Bergman ably demonstrates the horrors of loneliness, and man’s desperate need for kinship with his fellow-humans. Unfortunately, what he does not show is the social foundation of much of man’s present-day loneliness and lack of satisfactory human relationships, and the way in which modern life has broken down much of our social contact. However, it would be churlish to let this complaint blind us to the many fine qualities of this remarkable film.

Technically the film is excellent, and Bergman uses a multitude of brilliant devices to accentuate the theme of loneliness, The dream sequences never seem overdone or out of place, and the first dream, particularly, with empty streets, driverless hearse, and coffin which spills its ghoulish contents, is a superb piece of the macabre.

Although Bergman is concerned with man’s personal predicament in a world of decaying values and collapsing faiths rather than with the social nature of these changes, such is the quality of his perception that he invariably brings to the screen situations and characters in which we can recognise a social application.

However, Bergman provides a purely personal examination and explanation of human motives, and it would be misleading to suggest that his films are designed as pleas for social change; rather, they are pleas for personal development or change of heart. No matter how satisfying these films may be artistically, they do indicate that the director is mistakenly looking into men’s minds for the explanation of human frailty and suffering, whereas the explanation is to be found in the social structure that inflicts itself upon and moulds the minds of these men (including that of Bergman himself).

Loneliness, fear, frustration and unhappiness, if examined closely, in most cases reveal a recognisably social and not personal origin. While sympathising with Bergman’s concern for the plight of individual men, one cannot help wishing that he would look a little further for the social basis of much of what he examines.

A. W. I.

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