Ingmar Bergman's 1957 feature "Wild Strawberries" is a remarkable picture in nearly every aspect. In a mere 91 minutes, we are presented with a rich and moving portrayal of one man reflecting upon his life. The film is quiet, satisfying, beautifully filmed and fantastically performed by the film's cast. What seems like a simple story on the outside hides layer upon layer of questions and examinations of life. The film revolves around Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjostrom, in a masterpiece of a performance). The professor has practiced medicine for 50 years and is undergoing preparation to recieve an honorary degree. After a stunning and disturbing dream sequence, the professor decides to drive to his destination rather than fly.
His companion for the journey is Marianne (Ingrid Thulin), his daughter-in-law. The two begin a conversation about life and her situation with his son, which ends with her sharing her real feelings of dislike for Isak. The reveal of what she really thinks about him causes a reaction of genuine suprise, mixed with an undercurrent of hurt at the realization of how he has acted. As the two travel, they pick up hitchhikers, but the main focus for Isak is his past: as he travels, he dreams about his past, confronting where he went wrong in his life, as well as his inevitable passing.
"Wild Strawberries" works as well as it does thanks to several aspects, most notably the performance of Sjöström. A director and actor, Sjöström's expressive face and emotion are genuine and almost startling, because the viewer sees such genuine hurt and emotion on his face that one would believe that he lived through such problems. There's an interesting note in the production notes on the DVD, written by Peter Cowie, that discusses the health problems that Sjöström had during the production. That he was not in good health and able to provide such a convincing performance that he becomes this character is impressive. Ingrid Thulin's performance is interesting as well; a well-presented cold exterior may hide someone who is unsatisfied with her life. The technical aspects of the film are also outstanding, especially Gunnar Fischer's haunting and elegant black and white cinematography.
What might have been a very depressing and heavy-handed film from another director becomes a positive and life-affirming picture from Bergman. Nearly every moment of the film's 91 minutes is significant; we are presented with questions (although not always answers), symbols, characters that are complex, realistic and sympathetic and examination of life. "Wild Strawberries" is a moving and fascinating film that stays with the viewer long after the credits roll.
VIDEO: "Wild Strawberries" is presented by Criterion in a 1.33:1 full-frame (the film's original aspect ratio) transfer. The new digital transfer was created from a 35mm composite print, made from the original camera negative. Criterion has taken things a step further, using the MTI restoration system to clean dust, scratches and other debris from the film. The result is, I think, one that will amaze and please fans of this classic picture. The black and white picture is consistently smooth, crisp and well-defined throughout.
The picture quality is helped further by the almost nearly complete lack of flaws on the print used. While slight hints of grain and a speck or two appear here and there, the film looks stunning, given its age. The restoration system used certainly does impressive work - I would have liked to have seen one of Criterion's usual before & after demonstrations, though, which has not been included here.
SOUND: The audio quality is good, but not as impressive as the image quality. Presented in Swedish mono, the audio has been restored to remove any distortion or other problems. Still, while sound quality is pleasant and comfortable to listen to for the majority, there are some louder moments that I felt were slightly thin or harsh. Overall, this is still a very fine presentation, given the age of the picture.
MENUS: While these menus aren't as animated as some of Criterion's releases, the basic score playing and the images that serve as backgrounds are an appropriate introduction.
EXTRAS: Peter Cowie, author of "Ingmar Bergman: A Critical Biography", provides a full-length commentary track for the picture. As with the best of Criterion's commentaries, Cowie ties Bergman's personal history to the events of the movie and also talks about not only the production itself, but Bergman's work before and after.
The disc's most remarkable extra is the 90-minute documentary "Ingmar Bergman on Life and Work", which is presented with English subtitles. This documentary was originally produced in 1998 and is available for the first time on home video on this DVD edition. Interviews with the director, who still seems healthy and energetic, are provided during a good deal of the running time, as Bergman explores his career and life. Other material on the director's career is appropriately and enjoyably mixed in-between. While 90-minutes may not cover such an amazing career, this is still a very informative and enjoyable piece that I found particularly interesting.
The final supplement is a series of rare production photos. Production notes, as well as notes about the transfer, are included in the insert.
Final Thoughts: "Wild Strawberries" is a simple, but substancial film that combines a terrific screenplay, marvelous visuals and performances that are perfection. Sjöström's performance and Bergman's fantastic direction, among other wonderful elements, really make this film a must-see. The DVD gets a top-notch presentation from Criterion; the image quality is wonderful for a film of its age and the extras add solid insight into the film and the director's career. This new DVD edition of "Wild Strawberries" is a must.