Part Of The Picture: Scenes from an Almost-marriage

Posted on July 2, 2010



JUL 3, 2010 – A MAN IS AT HIS DESK, writing, a great dog by his feet. An internal monologue voices his thoughts – about his work, about members of his family, about his devoted housekeeper, about the award he is going to receive, about his loneliness. (“In our relations with other people, we mainly discuss and evaluate their character and behavior. That is why I have withdrawn from nearly all so-called relations. This has made my old age rather lonely.”) This unusually direct scene-setting prologue is followed by the opening credits, and then comes one of the most famous, most widely discussed sequences of art cinema.

Dr. Isak Borg (Victor Sjöström), the man at the desk, is now asleep. Tossing in bed, he narrates, “In the early hours of June 1st, I had a weird and very unpleasant dream. I dreamt that during my morning walk I lost my way among empty streets with ruined houses.” In the dream, he stops to stare at a clock with no hands. A sign that he is close to death and that a timeless eternity awaits? Or merely a foreshadowing of his father’s handless pocket watch that his mother will eventually show him? Why the insistent tattoo on the soundtrack, like a heartbeat? The hearse that loses a wheel and dislodges its coffin (containing Borg himself) – imminent death, or simply a warning that echoes the car accident that Borg will be involved in after he begins his journey towards the precious award?

Borg awakens, throws open the curtains, slips his robe on and proceeds to the bedroom of his housekeeper Agda (Jullan Kindahl). “Are you ill?” she sits up and wonders. He says, “Miss Agda, please prepare some breakfast. I’m taking the car.” She asks, “And what about me?” He says, “You can come in the car or fly. Please yourself.” She pouts, “I’ve looked forward to seeing you get your honorary degree. And we had arranged everything so nicely, and now you’re taking the car.”

The dread of the dream is giving way to dry domestic comedy. She says, “You’ll ruin everything! What about your son who is expecting you at the airport in Malmo?” He says, “You can think up an explanation.” She plops back into bed. “If you go by car, I won’t come at all.” He’s beginning to lose his patience. “We’re not married, Miss Agda.” She continues to grumble. “I thank God for that every night. I’ve used my common sense for 74 years, and it won’t let me down now.”

Walking away, he asks, “Is that your last word?” She steps out of bed and mumbles, “Yes. But I shall say plenty to myself about selfish, crabby old men who never think of those who have served them faithfully for 40 years.” When he begins to throw clothes into a suitcase, she hurries over to set right his clumsy efforts. He smiles, “No one can pack like you, Miss Agda.” The stretch plays as superb comedy, scenes from an almost-marriage, but it also slyly undermines Borg’s earlier estimation of his loneliness. He may have no family ties to speak of, but with Miss Agda around, he’s certainly not alone.

Smultronstället (1957, Swedish, Latin; aka Wild Strawberries). Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Starring Victor Sjöström, Bibi Andersson, Ingrid Thulin.

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Posted in: Cinema: Foreign