At some point during the viewing of this film I turned 39 years old. That is significant because there is a moment in this masterpiece by Ingmar Bergman at which a character is described precisely as 38 years old.
And so a mostly unimportant question arises: was I 38 or 39 when I heard that line?
To be sure, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen Wild Strawberries, but seeing it on the cusp of my birthday as the world spits me back into the cosmic cuspidor makes a poignant movie absolutely devastating.
You must understand, by “devastating”…I don’t necessarily mean bad. In my film lexicon I reserve the word devastating for films which reduce me to a weeping mess. This, now, is one such film.
My memory of it was as a sweet film…wild strawberries…youthful love…summertime. And indeed, all of those things are there. But this film is more than just naïveté. This film is about aging. Old age.
I would never have made the connection, but Smultronstället bridges the gap (somewhat) between its comrades in simpatico: Umberto D. (1952) and The Death of Mr. Lăzărescu (2005). In the former, Carlo Battisti set the gold standard for this micro-genre. He was 69 when he portrayed the titular Umberto Domenico Ferrari. In the latter, Ioan Fiscuteanu brought a razor-sharp accuracy to the likewise titular character Dante Remus Lăzărescu while being, himself, 68 years old.
And that brings us to the famed silent-film director Victor Sjöström. For Bergman’s Smultronstället, Sjöström was invited aboard as an actor (in the lead role of Isak Borg). Sjöström was, almost exactly with the two previous actors mentioned, 68 years old when he assumed this immortal role.
But there is something which Ingmar Bergman did (thanks to the magic of Sjöström’s performance) which is unique in this film. Beyond the surrealism befitting of de Chirico, beyond the hint of road movie panache which predated À Bout de souffle, Bergman keyed in on an absolutely defining characteristic of old age (for many): loneliness.
I recognize it because it is an absolutely defining characteristic of my own life. Sometimes I wonder if anyone out there is as lonely as me. I send out my signal. I comb through the tags. “Lonely” is a young person’s emotion. “Loneliness” is a lifelong complex. An articulate, stark reality.
And how does it happen?
Well, you will just have to see this film. Really, there are few movies I could more strongly recommend than Wild Strawberries. Everyone will see it differently. For me it brings back memories of Sweden (and even Denmark [though I should probably wait for Dreyer before admitting that]). Girls named Kaaren and Anna and Saaarah (ok, maybe not that many As).
That is the route of this unlikely road movie. What could have been… What might have been~~
Sometimes a dream rights our ship. But these bad dreams…we are one credit hour short, she doesn’t remember us, we’ve forgotten the first rule of being a doctor…
In our wisdom we will think of the good times. For me, it is as hard as breathing. I don’t breathe well. I think too much. About it. Everything.
Wisdom lets us go back to our old neighborhood…our old play friends…some ball in the street. We must have some good memories somewhere. Psychology urges this. A safe place. A mental image. A way to calm down.
In the fray of life this often isn’t practical. Indeed, we forget everything. Is there or isn’t there a God? I would say yes, but I’m not going to arm-wrestle you over it.
That is a bit of wisdom. You can go home again.