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Time and Humanity

Time and Humanity

The one key ingredient that keeps a film or narrative work timeless, fresh and relevant through the ages is its ability to portray man’s intrinsic dilemmas. And Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries is based upon just such a precept, one that will persist as long as the human race survives: the formidable process of trying to locate the core that makes him unique, of digging to the depths as he embarks on an inward journey… ‘Life’ has pivotal importance on this journey. We may think we control time, but the reality that it will continue to flow with or without us is a reminder of our transience and the reality that our lives are constructs. As losses and regrets add to our despair, the journey turns inwards in the footsteps of the past. At the point when every seemingly inviolable truth is turned or its head, it’s depressing to realize we have another last chance considering the time left. Losses; values, sacrifices made in their name; those who remain; people among those remaining who make that person unique; they’re all re-examined simply to locate the most elemental truth. And perhaps a fleeting enlightened feeling…

In Wild Strawberries (1957), Ingmar Bergman poses the multi-layered questions associated with completing the cycle of life. Isak Borg is to travel to Lund, where his son lives, to receive an honorary award for his contributions to medicine. Isak’s journey converges with his past. The moment he realizes how strict and uncompromising his life has been until then, he begins .questioning his existence. It’s as if the journey is about discovering his real self before dying. His life apart from his family, deprived of his youth, committed to his profession looms now as a life unlived. Laying aside the broad intellectual life he thought he endorsed through his belief in science, he recognizes how closed and overprotective he has been in defining his relationships with people. In a sense, Bergman contrasts science and human existence. But at the same time, he shows the different stages 0 life and of our perceptions of time. Isak’s mother, he and his housekeeper, his son and daughter-in-law, and the young people he picks up as passengers along the wa) are each representative of these various stages. But what Isak really recognizes is the meaning that human warmth, understanding, and mutual appreciation add to life, the energy that brings joy to life.

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The narrative of Wild Strawberries is rooted at the [ heart of an existential disengagement: what shapes Isak’s path is a moment… He discerns the existence of years when he viewed the world with infinite confidence, and he longs for them. That ‘moment’
I keeps turning around in his imagination. He feels
I it so profoundly that as soon as he rediscovers his once-lived peace of mind or opens himself up to himself, he sees the rest of his life through new eyes. Bergman conveys the ‘moment’ preoccupying his
I character in magnificently visual terms: a moment
I of infinite happiness when, as Borg lies under a tree in the warm spring air, the sounds emanating from
I the house melt into a lullaby… And wild strawberries s are a metaphor for that moment when a person
I becomes one with themselves: they are the wild
I patch of an age inhabited with the security of a love I anticipated and without calculation, an age when j social relationships have yet to shape personality.

Bergman and Wild Strawberries in the World of Pelin Esmer

Personal inclinations can be construed as the  barometer of an artist’s individuality. They may I change, but the direction of change marks the path I towards growth and maturity. That Pelin Esmer I was captivated by Wild Strawberries is revealing in terms of both the universal value of Bergman’s I work and the young director’s sensitivities. For her I first full-length feature 10 to 11, Esmer chose as I her protagonist a man living out the last years of I his life, a challenging theme in itself. This choice I suggests that she has opted to go her own way rather

ervone who spent for years their time and effort for the development of the festival. The first voung face I remember from 1983 is Görgün Taner. He was a part of the team which realised the first Film Davs with Haldun İleri and Halim Çün. The vears when in the first vears of the festival, dear Zeliha Kava, Onat Kutlar, Vecdi Savar, mv husband Ali Uçansu and mv cousin Hasan Ekici and I stapled reservation envelopes are long past now. The technology did not exist then. I would like to thank Nuray Muştu who has been mv close and dependable assistant from her youth days until mv last year, All Sönmez, who for 16 vears worked on catalogues, printed materials, and later budget and programme, and finally Bülent Başıbüvük, the sincere assistant of all kinds of film organisations. It is not possible to not affectionately mention Nllgün Malhan, who searched in panic on İstiklal Street for the Geor-

than follow the Zeitgeist. After The Collector (2002), Esmer rose to prominence with The Play (2005), a documentary in which she evinced the value of reciprocal understanding, respect and doggedly determined hard work.

Mithat Bey, the protagonist of 10 to 11, has devoted his years to myriad collections; he’s a man conversant with the finest details of every object he owns. And his twilight years are spent tracking down missing items, completing and preserving the collections. Mithat Bey’s lifetime is anchored in these collections, which is why they’ve become ever more precious to him as time marches on. He has lived his life without regret or compromise and remained true to his values. No one around him appreciates this quality, and bar a few exceptions he stands in j sharp contrast to the film’s other characters. For despite the vulnerability brought by his years, he has consciously chosen to hold out against the changed values of the times. There’s an example of Ali, the conscientious caretaker who spends his whole life in the apartment building: unable to brook family and financial problems, he changes. Although Mithat Bey values him, reminds him of his rights and above all trusts him, Ali sacrifices his lifelong collection to the tawdry relations of a city he doesn’t understand. Getting through the day has become the motto of the times; they are times that devalue individual lives. But at the same time, collecting values, preserving them and grasping the importance of the past are a moral issue.

That the owners of the apartment building get together, plan to demolish the building and erect a new one in its place is part of this moral issue. If the desire for the new, the large and the profitable shatters our relationship with the past, it also precipitates the dissipation of existing cultural values. Unlike his nephew, Mithat Bey doesn’t look on his cherished collection as merchandise. But for both his nephew and the dealer in second-hand books and curios, the past is merely a commodity, and therefore something from which we are totally estranged.

From Isak to Mithat Bey

Pelin Esmer’s choice of a character nearing the end of his years is the most obvious correspondence with Bergman’s film. Both protagonists have committed I their lives to specific causes, and both films question specific values by juxtaposing the universal intangibility of time with the individual tangibility of life.

A comparison of Wild Strawberries and 10 to ıı will also reveal various meaningful differences. In the first place, the period in which the two films were made differentiates the problematic of their common theme. Wild Strawberries was made in 1957, a time when the existentialist debate that flourished in the ’60s was beginning to take off. It was also a period in which the relationship and contradictions between society and the individual were being questioned in the cultural field. 10 to 11, on the other hand, is a criticism of society for no longer giving value to the past, even if its protagonist lives with the same problem. In other words, Isak’s journey in Wild Strawberries is a criticism of the individual, a process of inquisition and confrontation which leads to his inner being; an inquisition in the context of how choices and external circumstances shape our lives. 10 to 11, however, highlights shifting social attitudes in the context of a character who is tenacious in his choices and has devoted his life to his collection. It’s an elegy of the post-modern age to the past. Esmer is concerned with a psychological breakdown in society; she stands for the loss of values that make us who we are. For his part, Bergman re-examines unsatisfied desire at the end of a lifelong journey, a part that cannot become whole.

Isak thinks he has made free choices. He, too, is committed to his principles and has no regrets, but freedom can also be misleading. Wild Strawberries presents a personal inquisition in the face of lost belief in others, and choices that have led to solitude.

gian director Sergei Paradjanov who disappeared suddenly when he was expected on stage alongside Nikita Mikhalkov, Krzysztof Kieslouuskl and Greta Scacchl, to name a few; or Sara Berker, who, for 13 years with her smile and grace, represented our festival to our foreign guests. One cannot ignore the efforts of Nilgün Mlrze, who joined our ranks in 1989 as the press delegate of the Festival soon after she left her post as Mr. Akşlt Göktürk’s assistant at Istanbul University, while she successfully translated Can Yücel poems, and who has recently climbed up to become the president’s advisor at İKSV. There’s also Ömür Bozkurt, who began working at the film festival In

1990 as a functionary responsible for guest hospitality, later joined the İKSV organization, worked with us to establish the sponsorship department of the foundation and who is currently serving as Deputy General Manager of İKSV.

Isak realizes that, by pursuing perfection in science and rigid principles, he has overlooked the human and emotional details of life.

The key difference between the two films lies here: Isak of Wild Strawberries evinces the capacity to transform human existence, to invest it with new meaning and insight as he nears its end; in 10 to 11, on the other hand, Mithat Bey, is a character who holds out against time, exists through his collection and forges his relationships with others from this perspective. The way clocks are used in both films may help explain the difference. The clock Isak encounters in his dream has no hands (he also finds a fob watch without hands at his mother’s house). Time has stopped for him; he should return to the lost moment to find the missing piece. But the clocks in Mithat Bey’s life work; time slips by, so the past is more closely \ embraced.

As I mentioned earlier, cultural differences also play a part in distinguishing the two films. In 10 to 11, the city of Istanbul and environment in which the characters live are very much in the foreground. But Bergman presents a narrative based on the cool, detached, introspective solitude of the north, his homeland and a region ( where the rational world dominates the individual. So much so that the characters’! feelings for one another seem almost to be stuck, unarticulated, in their throats.

All the same, Time’ can always appear before us as a flux affecting individuals of every culture in every age, and always pose the question of how we spend it.

* Film critic and lecturer at Yeditepe University

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