Ved vejs ende
The next movie is also an Ingmar Bergman movie. I brought it with me when I went home to Denmark for my sister’s wedding this weekend and in all the stress and commotion this may have been the wrong movie to bring. This is a slow movie to watch when you are perfectly relaxed and able to focus, not casual viewing to rest the brain. As a result it has taken me a few days to digest it and I cannot say that I am entirely there yet, but alas, it is time for the review.
There is something David Lynch about this movie, the movie that comes to mind is “The Straight Story” in the way the movie moves between reality and weird, surrealistic dream sequences and even in the “real” parts very odd things sometimes happen with very little explanation. That all means that the first impression is something like deadpan confusion. However now that I have been thinking a bit about it I think I understand at least parts of it. I can be quite dense.
The movie is in one way a day in the life of Professor Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström), an elderly gentleman who has to make the journey from his home in Stockholm down to Lund in Skåne to receive an honorary title. He decides, much to the chagrin of his housekeeper Agda (Jullan Kindahl), to make the journey by car rather than flying. To those unfamiliar with Swedish geography that this is not a trivial distance to drive in an old car. Isak’s daughter in-law, Marianne (Ingrid Thulin) who is currently staying with him is joining him for the ride as her husband Evald also lives in Skåne.
What follows is an eventful and very emotional journey. It is in a second way a journey through Isak Borg’s life, highlighting people and events that made him a cold and lonely old man, starting with a dream he had the morning before going watching his own dead corpse reach out for him. He has discussions with Marianne that are pleasant and frank, but actually cruelly honest. As people fighting politely and smiling. Surreal, but also liberating. They pick up three youthful hitchhikers reminding him of his youth, especially the girl, Sara (Bibi Andersson), who carry a striking similarity to his life’s true love (same actress). This leads to a number of daydreams back to his youth, to a place of happiness where wild strawberries grew. Smultronstället literally means the place of wild strawberries and carry just about the same meaning as “Rosebud” in “Citizen Kane”. This was also where he lost his girl to his brother Sigfrid, who much better connected with her.
Isak and Marianne also pick up a really weird couple who do nothing but humiliate each other. Soon they are summarily dumped. A visit to Isak’s old mother also triggers some odd emotions.
The short of it is that by the time Isak and Marianne arrive in Lund Isak is mentally transformed. He is humbled, but he is also happier and more tolerant towards other people including his son and his housekeeper.
It seems a common enough artistic concept to pack a lifetime into a single day and it is something that fits very well to the movie media, but Bergman does it very elegantly, and therefore this is one of the best versions I can think of. Again, “The Straight Story” and “Citizen Kane” are similar movies that come to mind, but what they have in technique and novelty, “Smultronstället” has in humanity. We are getting awfully close to Isak Borg and that is a character who all his life has prevented even his closest family to get close to him, but here we are so close that I am almost blushing.
A lot has to do with Victor Sjöström’s brilliant performance. He is terribly important to the film and it is such a standout effort that it should have been considered by the Academy. Victor Sjöström I have actually encountered once before. He directed and performed in the notorious silent movie “Körkarlen” and was apparently the greatest Swedish director until Bergman came along.
I think under the right conditions I would have loved this movie and the fact that I have been thinking a lot about it since I saw it is definitely a good sign. At the time it was just the wrong movie to pick and that is not the movie’s fault. I will take it out some day, sit back and really enjoy it.