“Wild Strawberries” was the Winner Golden Bear, 1958 Berlin Film Festival.
Written while recuperating from stomach and intestinal ulcers in hospital, Ingmar Bergman's poetic script gave retired Swedish film actor/director Victor Sjostrom one of the richest roles of his career, with the actor's aged visage conveying an added depth to Bergman's already intriguing character. Though it deals with several issues, the most poignant remains one's relationship with parents: though we rebel against them as youths, we ultimately come back to them later in life, closing our childhood, and becoming adults.
Peter Cowie knew Bergman, and the commentary consists of a few personal recollections (play productions, meetings with some of the cast members over the years), generous biographical information from Bergman's own memoirs, and career material for each cast member. The viewer gets a concise, fluid, scene-specific history of the film's production, and Cowie's critical observations efficiently tie key scenes and dialogue to the director's admitted personal references.
Criterion's transfer was made from a composite print from the original negative, with careful digital restoration removing the usual scratches and blemishes of aging source materials. The blacks and grays are quite beautiful, with the only residual flaws being a small set of gashes in an interrogation dream sequence. While the affected areas have been smoothened, the sharpness and integrity of the overall frames remain true. The original mono soundtrack has also been cleaned up, and given the film's age, Erik Nordgren's evocative score and the film's dialogue are balanced and clean.
Considering the existing critical material on Bergman, one wonders what new territory can be covered in a ninety minute documentary. Filmmaker/author Jorn Donner's documentary is really a highly personal one-on-one interview session, with Bergman often candidly admitting details of his own difficult life. Covering his parents, his art, the loss of his wife, his children, and the island life that the hermit-like Bergman now lives, Donner's approach isn't intrusive; he waits for the right moments, and Bergman's candor often includes brief, somber pauses as he recovers from distinct flashes of painful memories. It's a slowly paced and highly compelling documentary, and the short pictorial montages - mostly of old photos, film clips and Bergman's island habitat - bridge the lengthy confession segments. As a DVD supplement, it's a major asset for Bergman admirers, and for novitiates, makes his work all the more attractive.
The DVD's final extras are a still gallery with various behind-the-scenes shots, and while not exhaustive, they cover several key scenes with the director often in view. Both the film, Peter Cowie's commentary, and the supplemental documentary are chapter indexed for easy access.
A nice addition would have been some trailers, to show how the film was marketed in Europe to an audience already familiar with Bergman's film and stage work, and any English-language publicity materials. Given the uniqueness of his films, a U.S. or British trailer would have given viewers a glimpse of how the once categorized Art Film was treated in English-language circles, amid the usual Hollywood product. As it is, it's still more than ample, and another foreign classic gets the attention it deserves.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan