It's an Ingmar Bergman film that's not bleak and depressing! What went wrong? Answer: a brilliant lead actor got his hands on it. I'll give some quotes from Bergman himself:
"I had written the script at the Karolinska Hospital where I had been submitted for general observation and treatment. The separation from my third wife was still a source of great pain. It was a strange experience to love someone with whom you absolutely could not live. My life with Bibi Andersson, a life filled with kindness and creativity, was beginning to crumble; why, I don't remember. I was feuding bitterly with my parents. I couldn't talk to my father and didn't even want to. Mother tried time and again for a temporary reconciliation, but there were too many skeletons in our closets, too many poisonous misunderstandings. I was quite sure I had been an unwanted child, growing out of a cold womb, one whose birth resulted in a crisis, both physical and psychological."
[re. the lead character of Wild Strawberries:] "I had created a figure who, on the outside, looked like my father but was me, through and through. I was then thirty-seven, cut off from all human relations."
I think it's official. Ingrid Bergman is a self-pitying twat with no control over his emotional problems, who's only an internet connection and some Doctor Who DVDs away from being indistinguishable from a thousand other no-life autistic losers. The difference between is that he poured all that into his movies. Furthermore let's look at this one's storyline. The DVD calls it "wondrously warm" and "one of Bergman's very finest achievements", but it's the story of an old man coming to terms with a lifetime of coldness and the fact that the happiness of his pregnant daughter-in-law is going to depend on separation from her husband. The man doesn't want children, you see. They love each other, but he's a self-hating emotional cripple who's being likened to his father and describes himself as "the unwanted child of a marriage made in hell".
However that's the script. The actual film has Victor Sjostrom in the lead role and he's overturning all Bergman's intentions. The script keeps calling him "cold", but a warmer, more human soul you couldn't hope to meet. He's adorable. This guy could kill puppies in front of your children and you'd still love him. To quote Bergman again... "Borrowing my father's form, he occupied my soul and made it all his own - there wasn't even a crumb left over for me! He did this with the sovereign power and passion of a gargantuan personality. Wild Strawberries was no longer my film; it was Victor Sjostrom's!"
Anyway, that's my glib oversimplification for today. Now to backtrack.
It's a charming film. It's easy to watch, although not particularly eventful. Sjostrom won a bunch of Best Actor awards for this and he's obviously wonderful, but there are other sources of surprising warmth. The three kids are lovely, for instance. They made me laugh by having a fist fight about the existence of God. Sjostrom's relationship with his grumpy old housekeeper is also kind of sweet. Then there's the way in which people can be friendly and relaxed with each other even when they're swapping some fairly blunt observations that you might expect to spark icicles growing in the air. Sjostrom's a 78-year-old doctor and bacteriologist who's driving to Lund University to collect an honorary degree. In other words, it's a road movie. He brings along his (gorgeous) daughter-in-law and also gives a lift to anyone they meet who needs one, such as three free-spirited youths and a married couple with an unpleasant style of arguing.
This 78-year-old man's mother is still alive, by the way. We meet her. She's 96 years old, she had ten children and I really hope Sjostrom was her eldest.
One oddity about the film is how fluid it is with dream, reality and memories. Sjostrom has a couple of disturbing dreams, the second of them surprisingly long, and in addition a number of flashbacks to his youth. He seems to have lingering longings about a girl who was secretly engaged to his brother and yet towards whom he made sexual advances, despite the fact that he was also doing bad things with a bad girl in the village. If this contains any morality, it's well hidden. However if you can overlook Bergman's Bergmanisms, these scenes have a strong sense of charm and nostalgia. The world of his childhood is bright and friendly, with everyone dressed in white while the older Sjostrom in contrast wears dark clothes and is shrouded in shadows. There's clearly some kind of reconciliation and fondness involved in these scenes and they're making the audience feel good, although I'm not sure you'd still be that way if you started looking at its psychological underpinnings.
Do I need to say that the acting is flawless, incidentally? Sjostrom was a titan of world cinema going back to the silent era, both as an actor and a director, and is known as the father of Swedish cinema. Meanwhile Ingrid Thulin is elegant and beautiful, Bibi Andersson's double role as both Saras (now and then) underlines some intriguing parallels and there's even a young Max von Sydow for all you fans of Judge Dredd and James Bond.
Overall, this is a very watchable film that's full of kindness and being relatively understated with its disturbing mental problems. An example of the former would be the scene where Sjostrom meets a couple who remember him as their former general practitioner and all but worship him as the best doctor in the world. I even laughed at the line when Sjostrom's mother points out that she hasn't died. The dreams are slightly surreal and unsettling, but not in a bad way. The only actual problem, I think, is the overly abrupt ending and for all I know even that might have been a defective disc. It was Oscar-nominated for Best Screenplay, incidentally. If you're looking for a gentle introduction to Ingmar Bergman, this would be a good place to start.