Saturday, 21 April 2018

Alternate Best Actor 1957: Victor Sjöström in Wild Strawberries

Victor Sjöström did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Professor Isak Borg in Wild Strawberries.

Wild Strawberries is a beautifully told story of an aging professor reliving the memories of his life as it is nearing towards its end.

Victor Sjöström, though had acted in his time, was better known as a director of the silent era before Ingmar Bergman cast him in this film. He was evidently Bergman's only choice for the role to the point he would have not done the film without him. Sjöström's work was an influence on Bergman as a director so he perhaps he was eager to work with one of his idols but perhaps the needing the eye of a director is what helped to encourage this casting as well. Wild Strawberries, to dust off a term, is very much "director's film" in that the overarching vision of the director is what you take most strongly from the film. The acting though is still an essential facet and Sjöström's work suggests a particular awareness in terms of his role within the film. In that this story of the professor Isak Borg is one often of the observer. The observer though need not be distant or unknown at any point. Sjöström's performance seems to understand this idea most keenly. Now there is a bit of more of direct character development, however that is on the lighter side in terms of the purpose of this portrayal. We do however have moments early on where we see the man before his journey both through land and through time. This is rather brief but Sjöström's certainly captures the proper irritability of a man within his ways as he complains to his housekeeper before he goes on his way. This is short yet important in that Sjöström grants us a view of the man Borg is known as to others, and helps to explain the memories others have of him.

The dreams and memories though are pivotal in revealing a different man, a more introspective one. This is through a combination of a few facets though in that we both have the visual of Sjöström in these scenes, but these are also further underlined by his narration throughout the film. A narration that certainly has a touch of distance, as a man recounting a story rather than living it, however infused with the right touches of emotion within key moments that Sjöström still emphasizes even if they are part of a memory. There are the dreams and memories themselves that are quite different, particularly in the film's opening where the professor suffers a rather bleak nightmare where he witnesses an arm-less clock, as well as finds his own coffin which includes his own corpse. Although the images of this nightmare are particularly striking, one of the most pivotal images within this sequence is Sjöström's reaction. He captures not only the more direct fear that is to be expected, but also more important this unpleasant uncertainty from the nightmare. It is not of a man who understands wholly what he sees, but rather is perhaps most troubled by his lack of comprehension. This leaving a sense of this unknown that leaves Borg in this frame of mind that perhaps ensures a different man will begin the journey than the man who complained to his housekeeper.

Sjöström naturally captures this state of an uncertainty, and even a confusion that creates the right understanding to the more pleasant man we see as he begins his road trip, to receive the degree of Doctor Jubilaris from his old university. A journey that he is joined first by his daughter-in-law Marianne (Ingrid Thulin). Their interactions is well realized by both actors in carrying this surface pleasantry yet underlined by a certain distance from Sjöström, but a touch of passive aggressiveness from Thulin. As she quietly airs her grievances towards him Sjöström passively, yet sympathetically listens to her. In this Sjöström effectively captures both the state of the past and the present in this single interaction. In one he is not taken aback by her unpleasant words, and is almost accepting of them. This might seem strange what Sjöström exudes is a man more of finally listening suggesting a man in the past too saturated by his own insecurities to really to listen to his own family's problems, or even their problems with him. The unpleasantness though is combated in a way though from other memories that appear when visiting his childhood home. It is here where Sjöström is a striking part of a sequence, certainly a facet of it only, but also an essential facet to be sure. Sjöström very seems realize this understanding, of the director's viewpoint, as he allows himself to be only part of the scene, yet makes the right impact in being only a part of it.

There is nothing simple about the memory, and again Sjöström's performance is keenly aware of the importance of the complexity of the memory. In that as he watches his old days of his own past, his family, and his old sweetheart it is not a single emotion elicited when he watches. There is certainly a nostalgic joy at times, a certain joy from getting to relive the old times. There is though still an uncertainty as he watches the less perfect moments of the past. Sjöström is downright haunting in a moment portraying this moment of analyzing a solitary moment of insight into a part of the past he did not witness but is now living. A parallel observation appears in the present as they continue their journey picking up a group of youthful hitchhikers, and, briefly, a bickering middle aged married couple. Sjöström's work again is of reaction yet distinct, and frankly less dramatic to those of the memories. This is fitting towards the idea of social circumstances but also his own barrier from them. His reactions though and even interactions still reveal a man living within his own past in these interactions. In that he finds this playfulness with the young couple, again infusing a nostalgic bliss and appreciation towards youth. This is in contrast to the bickering couple where again we have that uncertainty, though less severe in this instance, as Sjöström shows the man's own marriage being represented with their horrid relationship. 

The middle of his life is further explored through two pivotal scenes one of the present one of a manipulated past created through a nightmare. The nightmare is of seemingly his failure as a doctor, and witnessing a horrid time of his past. Again in this scene Sjöström is mainly just watching his past, but again there is such power in this. His eyes evoking not only an awareness of this past wound, but also the pain in processing this over again. Sjöström's work is quite of the moment, but rather finds such a power within the idea of this observation. His reaction seems bone deep as his whole body gripped state of being forced analyze his life and the pain that it entailed. This is against his interaction with a friendly gas station owner (Max von Sydow) who is more than happy to remind the professor of his deeds of the past, and his gratitude towards him. I love how Sjöström shows this almost moment of Borg being taken aback by this idea of his past having worth, leaving his reaction of this slightly pleasant bafflement that he portrays as almost unsure what to do with. The film doesn't end with a single memory or event that fixed everything for the professor by any measure. Sjöström captures instead this sense of man content with rather understanding of what has come, and what he can take with what is still there. We have a slightly reformation, not quite Scrooge level, as Borg is far pleasant towards his housekeeper, his son, and daughter-in-law than he was before. Sjöström finds the right naturalism within this change by just delivering these remarks now spoken as a man with a sense of joy in what was had, and a willingness to connect to those standing in front him. It isn't portrayed as a true revelation, but just this nuanced depiction of sense of appreciation of life in general. Sjöström doesn't leave a man lost in joy, but just able to have those moments as well as still live with his heartbreaks of old. Sjöström's work is not always the center of a scene, it is always the center of the true emotion in terms of the reflection of a scene, and what the scenes means in a greater context of the professor's life. Sjöström's subdued performance captures the emotion of this journey beautifully being an essential facet to every captivating image and sequence by properly establishing the meaning to each one.

45 comments:

Luke Higham said...

I'm pleased you liked him. :)

Your ratings and thoughts on the cast.

Anonymous said...

Louis: If Ironweed had been made in the 50's, who would have been your choices for Nicholson and Streep's roles?

Anonymous said...

Louis: What would have you done to improve Saving Private Ryan as a film, to actually make it a masterpiece?

Matt Mustin said...

Louis: What are your thoughts on the voices of Max von Sydow and Christopher Plummer?

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your lowest 3 and 2.5 on your 2013 Supporting Actor list?

Giuseppe Fadda said...

Completely agree with this review. He could even be a 5 for me. Thulin was excellent as well.

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

Louis: May I have your thoughts and rankings for the films Sjostrom directed that you've seen?

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Could you do a bonus review for Timothy Spall in Secrets & Lies when you cover 1996 again since you didn't get the chance to do so last time and wrote rather little about him despite giving him a 5.

Luke Higham said...

You didn't review Mason for Odd Man Out or Pacino in Scarecrow yet they had other five reviews whereas Spall doesn't.

Robert MacFarlane said...

1. Mitchum
2. Cagney
3. Sjöström
4. Steiger
5. Gazzara

Robert MacFarlane said...

Does anyone watch Lindsay Ellis's video essays? Her recent series on the Hobbit movies are pretty insightful.

Bryan L said...

Everyone: Would Kingdom of Heaven have been an Oscar contender in 2005 if
a) The Directors' cut had been the one released in theaters
b) A better actor than Bloom as Balian?

Luke Higham said...

Bryan L: It would've been a Techs contender for sure though since the theatrical version was a box-office disappointment, it would've been worse for the Director's cut if 20th Century Fox went with the same advertising campaign.

Bryan L said...

Luke: I see what you mean, since they sold the movie as a romance when it really wasn't.

John Smith said...

1.Mitchum
2.Sjöström
3.Cagney
4.Stiger
5.Gazzara

John Smith said...

Macfarlane: I watch her. She makes really insightfull video essays.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: RatedRStar requested Robert Shaw in Swashbuckler.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Andersson - 4(She's good in terms of portraying two portraits of youth that have an overlap yet are distinct in their differences. I will say that she does this so well that I did not even immediately recognize she was playing both parts at first. In that she is quite good in portraying this older perhaps more naive portrait of youth, against the more earthly one of the "Modern" period. Obviously both purposefully doesn't go past a certain point in depth, nor should it really. She is quite good in properly evoking that sort of charm, also perhaps even a bit of foolishness, but most importantly this certain energy of the young in both of her performances.)

Thulin - 5(She's altogether great in her role which is to slowly reveal herself through each subsequent moment we have with her, while wholly letting us know what she's going through long before the direct revelation. She brings so much nuance in every single delivery early on and in her own interactions in creating that sense of distance with her father-in-law. She in addition though creates a slowly growing sense of sympathy within the journey that she naturally develops in every moment again building them through her subtle reactions particularly those as she watches him with his extremely cold mother. When she finally fully reveals her own anguish she is particularly heartbreaking in portraying this release of distress both in the moment through flashback, and a bit more quietly in the present moments of this. She manages to craft her own journey even if it is more than secondary to the main one, that is also in the end a rather poignant one.)

Gunnar Björnstrand - 3(He's good in his three scenes however he is barely even a focus in those scenes. His role is rather limited however even as such as he manages to capture the cold relationship with his father and wife rather well. A specific cold relationship though by providing enough of this subtle emotional distress likely pertaining to past grievances. Again he's not really the focus, but he is good.)

von Sydow is good, but just has very little to do.

Yes, though that is dependent on the strength of the lineup, I may just do him as one of the five.

Anonymous:

Van Heflin and Marilyn Monroe

Louis Morgan said...

Anonymous:

There are some obvious cuts that could have been made. A removal of some scenes particularly the farming device which is totally unneeded, and just excessively hammers in a point. I think it would have been far more powerful if you merely had to wonder if Ryan indeed "earned it" instead of, having, yep he did, sure. Schindler's List seemed to have ruined Spielberg for endings, as his choice to double down, which I don't really mind there, seemed to have given him the idea that he always needs to make sure everyone understands what he was thematically going for with excessively stretched endings for the majority of his films since then. Saving Private Ryan more than anything needed 70's Spielberg at the helm who would have been more willing to have a bit more ambiguity, and a bit less excessive sentimentality. So much of the story has an inherent emotional potency but Spielberg just continually can't help himself throughout. In so many moments hitting you over the head with that a given scene is "emotional" when it already clearly is. For example just when the platoon are callously looking over the dog tags, he doesn't just let that play out. He has to show multiple reaction shots of the paratroopers for some time, with the Williams score swelling to an absurd saturation. That scene in conception already had power, but he doesn't let it quietly play out, he puts it to the highest value to make sure you FEEL IT. There are moments like this throughout that the younger Spielberg probably wouldn't have done, or at least done so many so times, to such an extreme. If he toned it down, cut a bit of the fat, I think it could've been a masterpiece.

Matt:

von Sydow - (There is something very special about von Sydow's voice. It's incredibly distinct to be sure, yet there is just something in his exact accent, and exact power of his voice that can be either very reassuring or rather off-putting depending on his need.)

Plummer - (One of the all time great narrator voices, and a proper representation of the distinguished North American accent, Canadian to be exact. Plummer's voice having such effortless command about it, yet this gentle approachable quality at the same time.)

ruthiehenshallfan99:

1. Phantom Carriage - (Kind of a New Year's Eve edition of a Christmas Carol, however a bit darker with a adjustment to a single spirit sent to try to reform a wrongdoer. It tells this already potent idea rather powerfully though particularly through its striking imagery throughout especially that of the titular figure.)
2. The Wind - (I would say the performance at the center is what most stands out about the film however the direction of the film certainly amplifies that to create a rather atmospheric portrait in terms of its effective visual representation of both a literal intensity of the environment but also that of the emotional intensity that is brought forth around the conflicts that arise over Gish's character.)
3. The Outlaw and His Wife - (A silent film that unfortunately depends a little too much on exposition at times. It certainly contains some striking imagery that makes up for it, particularly its final shot, however too much of the central relationship is "said" which holds back the potential of the story.)

Bryan:

Well bad marketing can sink a film, even a better film. Although perhaps with a different lead actor they might have shifted the focus of the marketing. Likely a December release would have made it a tech player, as Memoirs of a Geisha, which was neither a critical nor commercial success performed extremely well in the techs. Although its complete snub in the techs is still a bit ridiculous to begin with however, I mean Walk the Line got a costume design nod but it didn't? Utterly absurd.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: For 1996 Lead, I've got Stellan Skarsgård in Breaking The Waves, James Spader in Crash and Albert Brooks in Mother. The other option Daniel came up with was Denzel Washington in Courage Under Fire yet looks like another 4 at best.

Omar Franini said...

Louis: your ratings and thoughts on Misty Upham and Charlie McDermott in Frozen River

Luke: i think Skarsgård is more supporting in Breaking the Waves.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Have you seen The Man Who Planted Trees (1987). It's narrated by Christopher Plummer and won the Animated Short Oscar.

Luke Higham said...

Omar: That's okay then.

Von Sydow
Spall
Wright
Spader
Brooks

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Did you prefer Wild Strawberries over The Seventh Seal.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Yes.

They're about on an even keel for me.

Luke Higham said...

Your thoughts on The Man Who Planted Trees.

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Haven't seen it in some time, however I recall it being a beautifully animated little parable. Nothing too notable past that, but certainly a nicely told simple little story, particularly aided by Plummer's always great narration.

Calvin Law said...

Louis: your thoughts on the voices of Ralph Richardson, Trevor Howard, Michael Redgrave, and William Holden?

Bryan L said...

Louis: Your 2010s choices for these 60s Tom Courtenay roles?

Pasha Antipov
Gatiss
Colin Smith

I believe you previously chose Andrew Garfield as Arthur Hamp and James McAvoy as Billy Liar.

Anonymous said...

Louis: If you have seen, your thoughts on Westworld tonight episode.

Anonymous said...

And everyone else too if you saw the episode.

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Richardson - (The slightly less dry, and perhaps more approachable, yet just as regal voice as John Gielgud. A similair touch of cheekiness to it, but perhaps a bit more direct with Richardson.)

Howard - (English coarse at its very best. Not that Howard couldn't refine his voice if need be, but he just had the right proper brand of sort of a specific gruff English intensity in his voice.)

Redgrave - (Fittingly, coming from really the same period, Redgrave's voice is similair to Richardson and Gielgud. In that rather splendid yet oh so refined high pitched timbre, with that very specific British regal style.)

Holden - (Early voice, quite strange with just how soft it is. Later though Holden is one of the great man's man American voices. Very unique though with that certain slyness within it though that fit his more cynical characters so well.)

Bryan:

Pasha Antipov - Ben Whishaw
Gatiss - Domhnall Gleeson
Colin Smith - Taron Egerton

Anonymous said...

While we still have a long way to go to the 1990 bonus rounds, I'm a little concerned on what Louis will think of Hackman's performance in Loose Cannons. Someone has said that Hackman is terrible in that film.

Anonymous said...

Louis: If you have seen, your thoughts on Westworld tonight episode.
And everyone else too if you saw the episode.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your cast and director for a 1990s, 2000s and 2010s The Shawnshank Redemption

Plus, your top five moments in films that always seem to really move you emotionally (could be any emotion I.e sadness, anger)

Omar Franini said...

1. Cagney
2. Mitchum
3. Sjöström
4. Steiger
5. Gazzara

Louis Morgan said...

Omar:

Upham - 2.5(Her performance has many of the signs of really a non-actor in a poor sense unfortunately. She has good moments in there to be sure, but much of her work feels like a struggle just to at all seem wholly natural. There is struggle between overemphasis or just a blandness. She occasionally falls between those two problematic extremes, but more often falls on either side.)

McDermott - 3.5(His performance is a good very naturalistic turn. I like actually that in his moments of more extreme emotions he doesn't try to enforce an excessive importance to them. He instead finds this certain discomfort and anger however with this certain degree of ease towards the way he's probably been having similair troubles for some time. He finds the right balance by having this as part of just normal pleasant, living his life, behavior particularly the moments between him and his little brother.)

Anonymous:

A great start to the season at the very least. It is very much setting up the paths of the characters and has done so effectively. Creating new mysteries to be sure, but more importantly keeping it very much based within the individual character journeys. Although this is just the start there are already some great individual moments particularly for me, the man in black suiting up one more. Looking forward to see where each one goes. As expected the acting is one point particularly Wright, Newton, and Harris and I'll even say Thompson and Quaterman come off better than last season at least.

Anonymous:

1990's

Uh......

Keep Darabont for both, who by the way has one of the strangest careers.

2000's:

Andy: Guy Pearce
Red: Richard Jenkins
Norton: Ted Levine
Heywood: Robert Patrick
Hadley: Rory Cochrane
Tommy: Dominic Cooper
Brooks: Peter Falk

2010 can be found in Robert Ryan in the Set-Up.

"Not Both of Us Not All Of US" - Gettysburg
"They'll Vote with Potter Otherwise" or the ending - It's a Wonderful Life
The Assassination - The Assassination of Jesse James
The Vote - The Ox-Bow Incident
"I Like Me" or the ending - Plane Trains and Automobiles

Calvin Law said...

Louis: If possible could you keep all thoughts on Westworld and its episodes to just that level of detail (I never really mind spoilers to be honest but I do like it when reading your thoughts for a bit of a taste of what to come in terms of your opinion, but not exactly plot points so to speak). Obviously it's your choice haha, just that it will be a while before I can catch up on the episodes.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Do you think Jan Troell would've been a better choice to direct Pelle The Conqueror.

Luke Higham said...

Louis: Could I also get quick thoughts on Pelle The Conqueror.

Anonymous said...

Louis: Your thoughts on the "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in" scene from The Godfather Part 3.

Anonymous said...

1. Mitchum
2. Cagney
3. Sjostrom
4. Steiger
5. Gazzara

Luke Higham said...

Louis: What are your top ten biggest mistakes in the Star Wars franchise.

And could you name 5 actors that you sincerely hope get Honorary Oscars.

Louis Morgan said...

Calvin:

Sure thing.

Luke:

I think the film is a decent enough coming of age story, though I probably could've done without a few of those bullying scenes shot in that exact way. I probably would've preferred a Troell directed film, however I don't think the film presently is bad. It is a little interesting as is in the dynamic between father and son, however I think the film could have explored this a little more remarkable if the son had been a been more distinctive both as written and performed.

1. Using George Lucas as a sole screenwriter
2. Lucas directing the prequels himself
3. Jar Jar Binks (Kid pandering in general)
4. Casting of Anakin
5. Star Wars Holiday Special
6. Excessive CGI use
7. Stupid special edition changes
8. Death Star over saturation
9. The sand line
10. Too many plots/characters from The Last Jedi

Liv Ullmann
Tatsuya Nakadai
Tom Courtenay
Max von Sydow
David Warner

Anonymous:

Well I will give the film credit for managing to get one iconic line out of a film best known for being an underwhelming sequel otherwise. The scene itself though isn't a powerful as realized even with that use of admittedly a good line. This honestly is part just in the way Coppola so dispassionately shoots it. I think the idea of just kind of the old regal mob family being reduced to be just mostly just a few elderly people discussing in a kitchen is a potent idea, but again Coppola just lets it sit there. Then at the end of the scene he depends too much I think on Pacino to carry the moment, which if I want to be slightly sarcastic it seems like hammy Pacino and old subtle Pacino in an internal struggle in his portrayal of Michael's stroke.

Anonymous said...

Louis: your top 25 most hateful characters in film