Ingmar Bergman and "Wild Strawberries"

Ingmar Bergman passed away this morning, peacefully, in his house on Fårö. Swedish radio and TV, newspapers and online publications have gone into overdrive - nothing else noteworthy has happened this so-called summer, and reporting on the rain is getting really boring. They have jettisoned the stupid films they were planning on showing, the boring interviews they were going to broadcast and print. Unisono they are honoring Bergman, one of the cultural icons of modern day Sweden.

And me? Glued to the TV.

They are showing a wonderful documentary that Marie Nyreröds made of his life and cinematography a few years ago. They are furiously digging out his films, all of them. The news is interviewing filmmakers around the world. Unfortunately, they are broadcasting this on both TV stations at the same time, why can't they just have a dedicated Bergman channel?

The first film off the block is Smultronstället, Wild Strawberries. Professor Borg decides to take the car from Stockholm to Lund for his golden doctorate, and meets a lot of his past life on the way. I saw this film, made the year I was born, in English soon after I came to Germany. I don't remember if I had already visited Sweden when I first saw this film, but it was clear to me that I had to get to know more about this mysterious, wonderful country. I think it was Bibi Andersson, smoking a pipe just as natural as can be, that led me to get my first pipe. I had 2 or 3 "lady pipes", nice to hold, and loved to smoke whisky-flavored tobacco.

The twisted story, time folding back upon itself, myriad sub-plots and nightmares and pieces of everyday life - just fascinated me. I remember looking up wild strawberries in a book, drawing them, doing watercolors. I wonder where they are now? I didn't get to taste wild strawberries until many years later, visiting a friend Uppsala. She took me out berrying, picking blueberries by the ton. Then she found a few wild strawberries, and gave me one to taste - unbelievable that something so small can taste so good.

I have my own "wild" strawberries planted in the terrace garden now. I got four this year, each one better than the one before.

Watching the film again, in Swedish now, and having spent many, many years visiting and even living here, I see it through different eyes. I recognize the landscapes, the stories. I recognize so many names now when watching the credits. I know about the ceremony that Lund makes about its doctors. In a way, I wish we had something like that in Germany, perhaps not in tuxedos and in Latin, but some public ceremony marking the passage to Dr., not just a handshake all around, a hat from the colleagues, and a sip of champagne.

The film speaks a lot about relationships: parents to children, man to wife, young woman to suitors, professor to housekeeper, person to God. The surreal sequences - watches without hands, the oral exam, the Sarahs which keep popping up - interspersed with the harsh reality of an auto accident, rain, and Marianne's unvarnished truths, are just so well-done. Bergman was, indeed, a master filmmaker.

In the documentary he speaks about the one thing he misses most about filmmaking - working with Sven Nyquist, his cameraman for so many films.

I had the privilege of seeing one scene of "Fanny and Alexander" being made in Uppsala in the 80s. I knew nothing about filmmaking then, but was fascinated by the amount of effort put into this one scene, done over and over, with a horse and buggy careening down the cobblestone street. Bergman knew exactly what he wanted, and was not happy until it was just so.

Bergman inspired many filmmakers who carry on, shining light into every nook and cranny of our complicated relationships. I have so enjoyed seeing so many of his films.

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