Wild Strawberries Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
The old man wanders down a street of decrepit houses. The silent clock has no hands. Neither does his pocket watch. His heart beats louder and louder. Then it stops and all is quiet again. He sees a man with no face. A horse and carriage approaches carrying a coffin. The coffin falls out into the street, popping open to reveal—who else?—the old man.
It was all a dream. But that doesn’t make its meaning any less. Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström, better known as the director of such films as 1921’s THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE and 1928’s THE WIND) is a professor who has gotten lonely in his old age and has had plenty of time to ponder death. The subject becomes even clearer to him when he’s informed he’ll be given an honorary degree from Lund University. Isak heads from Stockholm to Lund with his daughter-in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Thulin, who also appeared in Ingmar Bergman’s WINTER LIGHT and THE SILENCE, among others), who is pregnant and therefore a symbol of the beginning of the life cycle.
They take a detour at Isak’s summer home, “the place where wild strawberries grow.” He daydreams about his lost love, his cousin Sara (Bibi Andersson, PERSONA), who denied her love and wed his brother instead. After they get back on the road, Isak picks up a trio of hitchhikers, one of whom is a dead ringer for Sara. At one point, the car nearly collides with another and veers off the road. In the other vehicle is a married couple, who spend every waking minute bickering.
Loss and death haunt Isak and hover over him like storm clouds. The further into the journey, the more we see that he seems to have spent his life robbing himself, perhaps consciously, of happiness. He is empty and sad, interested only in himself and his achievements.
WILD STRAWBERRIES is directed by Swedish master Ingmar Bergman, who is responsible for some of the most haunting films ever made, like 1957’s THE SEVENTH SEAL, 1966’s PERSONA and 1968’s HOUR OF THE WOLF, to name just three. In other terms, three of his works have won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar (THE VIRGIN SPRING, THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY, FANNY AND ALEXANDER), placing him third only to Italian titans Federico Fellini and Vittorio De Sica. (Bergman’s script was nominated for the Best Original Screenplay Oscar that year, as was Francois Truffaut’s for THE 400 BLOWS; they lost to, of all things, PILLOW TALK.)
So many of Bergman’s films perfectly represent his style and themes, and almost all of them deal with death in some form. WILD STRAWBERRIES swims in it, making it one of the essentials: there’s the handless clock, which suggests that time has or will run out; there’s the carriage, which may allude to the one in THE PHANTOM CARRIAGE, manned by Death himself; and of course there are the strawberries, which are now never tended to and will never be ripe again.
WILD STRAWBERRIES BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 1.33:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “This new 2K digital transfer was created on an ARRISCAN film scanner from the original 35mm camera negative at Chimney Pot in Stockholm. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using Image Systems’ Phoenix and the Foundry’s NUKE.”
WILD STRAWBERRIES has never looked as good on home video, with stunning clarity and detail in both close-ups (Sjöström looks appropriately aged and worn) and exteriors (notably the summer home sequence).
Audio: Swedish Mono. Subtitles in English. “The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from a 35mm print. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.”
The audio transfer is very clean, with no detectable hiccups.
Audio commentary featuring film scholar Peter Cowie: Cowie offers a very thorough track, touching on WILD STRAWBERRIES’ production, themes and significance.
Introduction by Ingmar Bergman (4:04): Bergman discusses both the film and its main character.
Behind the Scenes of WILD STRAWBERRIES (16:53): This compilation of archival footage shows various scenes being prepped, as well as some intimate moments with the cast and crew. Comments from Jan Wengström, the curator of archival film collections at the Swedish Film Institute, play in voiceover.
INGMAR BERGMAN ON LIFE AND WORK (1:30:38): This documentary, which aired on Swedish television in 1998, offers a feature-length conversation between Bergman and filmmaker Jörn Donner.
Also included is a 16-page booklet featuring an essay by film critic Mark Le Fanu.