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The Greatest Films: Wild Strawberries

I review Ingmar Bergan’s true cinematic masterpiece.

The societal implications of Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries isn’t as great as past films featured within this series, but Bergman was never a topical filmmaker.  The great director’s style isn’t indicative of changing social norms, nor does his film seem to mirror any kind of giant upheaval in the public psyche.  Bergman’s straight-forward almost theatrical way of shooting his films in the 1950’s reflects a personal love for a storytelling that does not rely heavily on typical European film conventions.  But instead of utilizing a distinct method to separate his films, Bergman seems to deviate from the then trend in Europe that relied on simple subjects.

In European cinema towards the end of the 1950’s, we were treated to two major emerging and evolving film movements: the French New Wave in France and Neorealism in Italy.  Both systems tended to gravitate towards a more pedestrian, striped-down approach to enable the filmmakers to tackle the material with just the purpose in mind, and not to get sidetracked by the physical limitations of their medium.  Though when it came to Ingmar Bergman’s work in Sweden, his films tended to be slightly more meticulous and intentional, mainly because his films lent themselves to a more sophisticated storytelling structure.  From Smiles of a Summer Night until the major cinematic reworking that is Persona, Bergman’s oft-used formal qualities were similar to that of Hollywood fare being produced in the 1940’s, as his elements included similar shot selection and editing.  Where Bergman’s style strays is in the structure of Wild Strawberries, especially in the lucid dream sequences of Isak Borg.  In these scenes, Bergman takes an almost German Expressionist way of tackling the subject, or at least the blocking of the entire exchange between the professor and the city street harks back to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.  I believe that in these quiet moments, Bergman’s true colors shine through clearly, and that his style isn’t necessary to the film’s meaning.  Isak Borg’s slow disconnection from himself and the realization of the perils of age results in these sequences where he seems to see himself in a precarious way.

The great director Ingmar Bergman never settled for socially-succinct, topical filmmaking.  His plots and themes are borderline heavy, as most of his films deal with death, aging, the search for God, and the purpose of one’s self in the universe.  He isn’t necessarily an upbeat filmmaker and isn’t exactly a flashy one either, but his films seem to transcend the historical contexts and social constraints that many films are hung up on.  While I think that films like Gillo Pontecorvo’s Battle of Algiers and Roberto Rossellini’s Rome: Open City are powerful examples of expert filmmaking, Bergman’s work is a lot more accessible and endlessly challenging.  There is always something new to feel and experience in Bergman’s work, despite the repeat viewings.  Ingmar Bergman is never hung up on trying to make his film an opiate for the masses, nor does he attempt to bring some kind of sweeping social change.  Instead, he uses his films as a sort of therapy – a way for him to exorcise the personal demons that have haunted him his whole life.

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