INGMAR BERGMAN: A Season of Films at Swedenborg House | 13, 20, 27 September 2012 | Swedenborg Hall, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way, London WC1A
THIS WEEK we continue the 2012 Swedenborg Film Season, with a special screening of WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957) by INGMAR BERGMAN (1918-2007).
If The Seventh Seal won Bergman much critical praise, then Wild Strawberries is the film that propelled him to the forefront of world cinema. It is also generally considered to be one of Bergman’s most humane films and won him an academy award for best Foreign Film. Wild Strawberries tells the story of Professor Isak Borg (played by the veteran Swedish director Victor Sjöström), who is forced to face his past and accept the inevitability of his approaching death.
Bergman wrote the screenplay whilst in hospital in Stockholm, as he reflected upon his difficult relationship with his father, a Lutheran priest. Indeed, Sjöström was partly chosen for his resemblance to Erik Bergman, and his performance embodies the director’s attempt to justify himself to his father as well as the elderly actor’s own experiences. Shot in black and white, the film mingles imagery from everyday life with flashbacks, fantasies, dreams and nightmares. Isak’s journey of self-recognition through memory and imagination – a process of judgement in preparation for death – is highly Swedenborgian. Isak confides to Marianne, ‘This past month I’ve been having the oddest dreams. It’s quite comical … It is as if I am telling myself something I don’t want to hear when I am awake… That I’m dead, even though I’m alive.’
As he reflects upon his past and character, the professor’s hardness and selfishness (or ‘self-love’ in Swedenborg’s terminology), reveals itself and condemns him: ‘You’re an inveterate egotist, Uncle Isak… It’s well-masked by your old man’s mask and your amiability. But you’re an inflexible egotist.’ In both style and content Wild Strawberries recalls The Great Divorce (1944) by CS Lewis, another work influenced by Swedenborg. Bergman is also arguably inspired by Strindberg’s introduction to A Dream Play (1901), where time and space do not exist and reality is bound up with memory and imagination, much like Swedenborg’s afterlife. In the final scenes Borg retires to bed one evening, is overcome by a sense of peace and dreams of a family picnic by a lake, ending the film with one of Bergman’s most uplifting images. Indeed, the veteran director’s performance is transcendent, lending the film a special quality which is at once surreal and humane: “Sjöström’s face shone”, said the director. “It emanated light – a reflection of a different reality, hitherto absent. His whole appearance was soft and gentle, his glance joyful and tender. It was like a miracle”.
Written by Stephen McNeilly & Nora Foster
The screening of Wild Strawberries on Thursday 20 September 2012 is free admission but capacity is limited. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org regarding availability. Visit the Criterion Collection website for further details on how to purchase a DVD copy of the film.