by Marty Demarest
Seeing Wild Strawberries again, 45 years after its initial release, it's hard not to think of the works of art that have followed it, treading in the footsteps of Ingmar Bergman's haunting masterpiece. Woody Allen used the film as inspiration for his own Deconstructing Harry, and Michael Chabon's novel Wonder Boys gently nudged Bergman's themes into postmodernity. However, neither of those works -- as accomplished as they both are -- reverberates with the emotional resonance of Wild Strawberries.
Relating the tale of an aged Stockholm professor who sets out in his car to receive an honorary degree, the film's true story emerges as he confronts the life he has led, and begins to explore the workings his subconscious has had on his existence. Confronted with the questions of decency, mercy and pity as they have been answered in his character's past, Swedish actor and director Victor Sjostrom gives a brilliant performance depicting a man's struggle with time as he moves towards his death, unable to alter what has already happened.
But wrapped around this dark and internal tale is one of Bergman's most lyrical, vivid, and -- dare we say it when regarding the famously dour existentialist? -- humorous works. The presentation leaps gracefully from grippingly presented dialogue, in which a character's silent face tells more than any words, to dream sequences and flashbacks. Ultimately, the film resembles nothing more than a full portrait of the main character's mind.
The Criterion Collection's DVD presentation of Wild Strawberries makes no greater contributions than the flawless digital transfer of Bergman's rapturous black-and-white cinematography and a new translation presented in subtitles. But for cinephiles for whom the film itself isn't sufficient, a commentary from film scholar Peter Cowie, a documentary about Bergman and some behind-the-scenes still photos round out a particularly classy presentation of an immortal film.