Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman / Sweden, 1957):
(Smultronstället)

"The most difficult of virtues" (Eliot on Baudelaire) is a pedant's lesson in humility, a long summer day compresses the dual journey of remembrances and reveries. The academic grouch (Victor Sjöström) has stored nearly eight decades of rigidity and regret, so it goes with Ingmar Bergman's Scrooge on his way to a honorary degree, "they should have made me honorary idiot." The proximity of death is a clock without hands, the blanched nightmare cites The Phantom Carriage and Vampyr in quick succession and leaves a crucial image for Lynch (a grimace on a balloon that promptly bleeds). Into a boxy car for the professor and his fraught daughter-in-law (Ingrid Thulin), the road from Stockholm to Lund has plenty of pit stops for flashes from the past to illuminate the present. The childhood cottage evinces the verdant patch of memory, its berries and also its weeds, the traveler's beloved cousin (Bibi Andersson) is reincarnated as a jaunty hitchhiker juggling a pair of beaus. Bitterly wedged between youth and dotage is middle-age—a roadside crash acquaints the protagonists with a married couple (Gunnar Sjöberg, Gunnel Broström) locked in poisonous bondage ("My wife likes ridiculing me. I let her, it's psychotherapy"), an acrid sketch that burns a hole in the Chekhovian flow. The ancient mother with the discarded doll (Naima Wifstrand), the son (Gunnar Björnstrand) following in the doctor's crabby footsteps, the pregnant chill in the pit of Thulin's stomach: "In this jumble of events, I seemed to discern an extraordinary clarity." The rancor of old age is its own purgatory, geriatric thawing is a crisscrossing spectacle, a constellation dilated by Resnais in Providence. Scolded in merciless dreams and awarded in pompous ceremonies, the chastened curmudgeon has at long last the reward of a smiling flirtation and a peaceful night's sleep. "A nice and relaxing drive, wasn't it?" Sjöström's sublimely creased face in serene close-up comprises the concluding oasis, Bergman contemplates the miracle in awe and envy. Cinematography by Gunnar Fischer. With Jullan Kindahl, Folke Sundquist, Björn Bjelfvenstam, Gertrud Fridh, and Max von Sydow. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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