While covering the 1958 Berlin Film Festival for Cahiers du Cinéma, Jean-Luc Godard sent the following telegram:
“Golden Bear Wild Strawberries proves Ingmar greatest stop script fantastic about flash conscience Victor Sjöström dazzled beauty Bibi Andersson stop multiply Heidegger by Giraudoux get Bergman stop.”
What else needs to be said?
Ingmar Bergman got the idea for the story of an academic reliving his past while travelling to collect an honorary degree during a two-month stay in hospital. His recollections of its genesis were cloudy, as he contradicted remarks about a sentimental return to his grandmother’s house with the assertion that he was forever living in his childhood.
But, while the influence of August Strindberg’s A Dream Play and Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt was evident, protagonist Isak Borg emerged from Bergman’s own past, as he later revealed: “I had created a character who, on the outside, looked like my father, but was me, through and through.”
Another significant source of inspiration was the cinema of silent pioneer Victor Sjöström, whose casting as Borg has also been the subject of much speculation. In particular, Karin Ingmarsdotter (1920) and The Phantom Carriage (1921) impacted upon the opening dream sequence, with its handless clock and driverless hearse. But, as Bergman conceded, Sjöström “took my text, made it his own, invested it with his own experiences”.
Some critics have seen Wild Strawberries as a forerunner of the road movie. However, the genre was already well established in Hollywood and Bergman may well have taken note of Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy (1954) – after all, the three hitchhikers picked up by Borg and his daughter-in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Thulin), are heading to Italy via Lund.
Whatever its own influences, however, the film has proved massively influential in its own right, becoming a milestone in world cinema on its release 60 years ago – and cementing Bergman’s reputation as one of the world’s great directors.
Here are some of its most notable descendants.
Director Federico Fellini
Following Wild Strawberries in opening with a dream sequence that sparks a series of revelatory reveries, Federico Fellini’s self-reflexive meditation on the nature of creativity strives to convey the three levels “on which our minds live: the past, the present, and the conditional – the realm of fantasy”.
Like Borg, blocked film director Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) has to endure some harsh truths and accept the impossibility of romantic perfection, and come to realise how much he needs the people he has taken for granted. Moreover, in aiming to create a new kind of cinema, Bergman and Fellini each sought inspiration from the golden age of silent cinema.
Five Easy Pieces (1970)
Director Bob Rafelson
One sequence in Bob Rafelson’s road movie is clearly indebted to Wild Strawberries. In Bergman’s film, en route to Lund, Borg and Marianne offer a lift to Sten (Gunnar Sjöberg) and Berit Alman (Gunnel Broström) after nearly crashing into their car. In Five Easy Pieces, while heading to Washington state to see his estranged father, Bobby Dupea (Jack Nicholson) and Rayette Dipesto (Karen Black) similarly give a ride to Alaska-bound lesbians Terry Grouse (Toni Basil) and Palm Apodaca (Helena Kallianiotes) after they run into a ditch.
The latter’s furious rant about crap and consumerism, which continues after the infamous “chicken salad sandwich” scene, eventually sees the pair share the Almans’ fate by being deposited at the side of the road.
Deconstructing Harry (1997)
Director Woody Allen
Woody Allen credits his lifelong addiction to Ingmar Bergman to “a much talked about movie with the unpromising title Wild Strawberries”. Echoes of Isak Borg’s odyssey can be heard in Stardust Memories (1980), Another Woman (1988) and Crimes and Misdemeanours (1989). But they positively reverberate around this tale of a writer travelling to receive an honorary degree from the college that had expelled him.
Rather than figures from his past, however, Harry Block (Allen) is confronted by the book characters he has modelled on the family and friends he has succeeded in alienating. Yet, while Borg embraces life at journey’s end, Block retreat into a fictional world that he can control.
About Schmidt (2002)
Director Alexander Payne
Alexander Payne watched a lot of “old guy films” while preparing his adaptation of Louis Begley’s novel and, despite appearing to be diametric opposites, Warren Schmidt (Jack Nicholson) and Isak Borg have much in common. Schmidt’s career as an actuary merits a mediocre dinner rather than a grand investiture. But, like Borg, he is a cuckold whose inability to express emotion has alienated his child.
Schmidt also feels moved to write about his frustrations and narrates his own story via his letters to Ndugu, the six-year-old Tanzanian boy he has adopted through a charity. Moreover, his Winnebago journey to block his daughter’s wedding ends in an equally deserved and poignant epiphany.
A Man Called Ove (2016)
Director Hannes Holm
In making Wild Strawberries, Bergman had borrowed the technique employed by Alf Sjöberg to blur the lines between past and present, memory and musing in his 1951 adaptation of Strindberg’s Miss Julie.
Modern-day director Hannes Holm has even less use for traditional transitions in this Oscar-nominated take on Fredrik Backman’s bestseller. Consequently, the grumpily egotistical Ove (Rolf Lassgård) simply wanders into recollections involving his beloved father and adored wife. But, just as neighbours keep interrupting Ove’s reveries, they also prevent him from committing suicide. Indeed, pregnant Iranian immigrant Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) assumes the Marianne mantle, while her mischievous daughters, Sepideh (Nelly Jamarani) and Nasanin (Zozan Akgün), stand in for the trio of youthful hitchers.
And all these too…
In addition to the quintet discussed above, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris (1972), Paul Mazursky’s Harry and Tonto (1974), Pedro Almodóvar’s High Heels (1991), André Téchiné’s My Favourite Season (1993), David Lynch’s The Straight Story (1999), Arnaud Desplechin’s Esther Kahn (2000), David Cronenberg’s Spider (2002) and Jim Jarmusch’s Broken Flowers (2005) have all revealed a debt to Bergman’s masterpiece.
Francesco Bruni’s Tutto quello che vuoi (2017) even went so far as to cast veteran filmmaker Giuliano Montaldo as the Borg-like poet on his own sentimental journey. But nothing has paid fonder tribute than George Coe and Anthony Lover’s gobbledygooking short, De Düva (1968), which parodies Bergman’s themes and style to hilarious effect.
De Düva (1968)